RSS

Category Archives: Places & Experiences

Goodbye to the house with no driveway

I went to my bedroom earlier than usual this evening, disappointed over another property I was urged to let go of, and wanting to process this in writing, or maybe just to escape into a Father Brown episode. That kind of repeated disappointment deflates me like balloon. That’s what it felt like to send the email to let our realtor know that I did not need to view it tomorrow after all. Then I cried a little.

The little house, built in 1889 and a half hour’s walk from our current one, was well within our budget, and a potential investment as well as office and getaway/rental. But like the blue vinyl cafe (the one I sort of fell for a few weeks ago), it just isn’t the one for us, apparently, because who wants a house without a driveway, or one where a driveway, if deemed allowable despite the designation of the hillside as critical area, would require a geo-engineer to sign off for permitting?

I say, if the old lady who lived there since the ’60s didn’t need a driveway, that neither do we. I say, I’ll just bike up the hill with the salt, cheese, and coffee, and let the food come from the soil and the henhouse. I like the idea of no driveway–a real paradigm-shifter whose time has come. But banks do not agree, as they have to be concerned with a quick sale should the buyer default on their payments, and partially paved paradise seems to be part of the preferred package.

The house had a bow window facing south with a view of the mountains, overgrown fruit trees, evergreens and bird habitat, all on a third of an acre. Just up from one of our favorite walking streets, for its funky, friendly, neighborly feel and abundance of trees and gardens. My daughter and I dreamed ourselves in it–an office for the business, and she and her older brother living there and keeping it up, and sharing the place with a third roommate to help pay the mortgage. It had a porch nestled up against a pine tree for shelter from the rain and head, for conversations. My daughter lit up when she realized that there, she could have a cat, safe from the Siberian husky we have at home. The house was old, and she hoped it had that “old” smell. The carpets in the downstairs bedrooms were shag in primary colors–in the photos, the south light streaming in the windows onto them made it look like a college party was in progress.

It was not the dream house, not the dream property. Whatever that is, anymore, besides impossible to agree on–too many variables. But I thought, why not just buy something small, a fixer-upper, for casual use and let it appreciate ($30,000 up in assessed value over the four years isn’t bad), knock around the house and property for fun? Seems better than putting more money into an IRA invested in the stock market. Real estate is real. You can plant a garden there, and come in from the rain. Frankly, I don’t believe my mate will ever be ready to take the big step of buying a more expensive place to replace the one we own now. Every time we have come close, he realizes how much risk we’re taking on, when as a contractor, his job could go away next week. Puts a damper on most dreams–a reality check. I get that–I don’t want him to be tied to a commute and high-stress work that he no longer has the heart for, and as a new teacher, I couldn’t afford it on my own.

We all need more space, and the idea of a project (not too big or urgent, or involving living in the garage or under a canopy on the patio–this time) excites us. That blue vinyl-sided house from a few weeks ago could have been an office and rental, even a little coffee house for locals (another dream I had). I’d help the kids at the nearby elementary school with their garden, and buy what they grew for my salad specials, let them meet their math tutors and mentors over home grown mint tea, on the house. There were several outbuildings for workshops and other uses. A finished attic for office space. But its sale was already pending, and it’s one now.

I suppose I can see this process of wanting, planning, dreaming, the letting go as a kind of growth opportunity, or a process to clarify our priorities. So I do, but my priorities haven’t changed, though my circumstances have. I want sunlight, neighbors, a kind of homey, old, Charlie Brown Christmas tree house that I can nurture and not be out-classed by, some land for a garden, space to work with tools and materials, both indoors and outdoors. Room for visitors, this time, would be nice, but with the four kids grown or almost grown, that will be a given most of the time.

I want a kitchen table without a wall looming so close over the table I leave it bare so it won’t look even smaller. I want a house with the TV way out back or downstairs or even in a separate building, not in the living room, the only other place to sit inside other than at the kitchen table (with the wall looming).

So I drink my turmeric tea, listen to the quiet slosh of the dishwasher and some drops of rain splattering from the trees onto the stove vent hood on the roof. The bread is rising for the buns I’ll bake tomorrow for Thanksgiving. My daughter and her friend helped knead while I made up some coleslaw from the two cabbages I cut this week. We’ll drive south to join nine other family members on my husband’s side. There are three new babies in the family, and all my sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, and mother- and father-in law are well. My parents, brothers, and sisters are all doing okay too, too, though I see them seldom. My husband and four children are healthy, and successfully navigating life. Who’s to say whether I should be wanting anything? Still, next week I’ll call the back and get another pre-approval for a loan, just in case.

 

Tags:

School Managers Versus Visionaries – A Teacher’s Perspective

Two things that helped me get centered as a teacher-person this week. One was hearing a CBC radio piece about fidget toys–those little spinners kids are bringing into classrooms all over. On the one hand, the sellers were claiming they helped students focus and de-stress, even could mitigate the effects of hyperactivity, ADHD, even autism. But there wasn’t any science yet on that, it was noted. Most teachers disapproved of the gadgets, and were confiscating them right and left. One interviews said she thought they were “kind of ridiculous.” A school psychologist said, basically, that all items brought into the classroom for the purpose of supporting student learning ought to be part of a carefully crafted and documented plan created by the team of education professionals. That struck me as ridiculous, that a kid couldn’t even bring a cool little toy to class because was unauthorized. It spoke to me of a culture of micromanagement, especially promoted by those with a agenda crafted away from classrooms, away from daily contact with individual human personalities. Like teachers and others are in some kind of tug-of war for the students’ attention so all of their other interests must be snuffed, especially if they take the form of something that can’t be easily turned into a gradable essay, science activity, or math assessment.

Maybe I react so to that management frame of mind because I’m not really able to get my head around it, have always had difficulty with the “management” part in some ways. Not that students are out of control in my classroom, but they are definitely out of my control, and mostly in their own. I don’t “run a tight ship” in that sense, though I think that there’s a pretty good culture aboard, and a sense that we all need to make this group thing work while each individual makes their own choices. Despite the fact that a few students have chosen not to respond positively to being trusted, I want to continue to extend that trust. In planning lessons, I assume that, like me, every student will find some part at least of what we are covering fascinating. If not, if something else, such as a spinning toy, is more engaging, surely I shouldn’t be annoyed and offended. Surely I should show sympathy with his or her fascination and delight, and give space (and guidance if necessary) while he or she figures out the appropriate place of such an object in the flow of the lesson. I might make an effort to discern the student’s real purpose in using it; I might try to co-opt it to replace something I had planned, or I might ask myself, is there any way I can teach in a more interesting way?

The second thing was a conversation with a mom who has a few of her older kids in our school for the first time, seeing how it goes, so she can juggle the home education of her younger ones and some health problems too. I ran into her at the grocery store, and she shared how tough it as for her son and daughter to “catch up” after a trip, and in the midst of extracurricular activities. I asked her how the school experience as going so far, and she shared that one of the unpleasant surprises was the typical “schoolishness” of it all, despite the fact that we served homeschoolers, and the fact that the principal and several staff had homeschooled their own children. All the stress, rush, and testing and all. Why did it have to be that way, she asked? Why couldn’t people just pool their money and create a school that did things differently?

That’s what schools are, though, I admitted. The more established they get, the more standardized, the less flexible and integrated with the rest of life. This push and pull between freedom and accountability is especially pronounced when homeschoolers and public schools get together. We get money for each enrolled child, and they get classes, and a resource library, and certain consumable materials (non-religious only).  We have to log progress (as measured in various ways, currently pretty flexible at our school), and train them to do their part of the paperwork for the auditor, so we get to stay open. They get to graduate their kids, but the kids have to make the grade, and we decide what that is. Schools will always tend that way, I told her. But you’re the boss, the person ultimately responsible, and you don’t have to buy the whole package. Even graduation (I was tempted to lower my voice) was not the be-all for every family, whether college-bound or not.

She and her spouse are very pro-active and purpose-driven parents, and their kids are lovely human beings. Not all our parents are taking it as such a privilege and opportunity to manage their children’s education in partnership with us. Some are using our school as a shelter, where there’s a high percentage of conservative Christian families, and nice, small classes. Some just need a break from the kids a few days a week. Others sign up because there aren’t classes every day, and so on “home” days, they have a free babysitter, or can have the kid work on building houses for the family firm or milking the cows on the farm. Every time that sort of thing comes up, usually in the form of our concern that these students aren’t keeping up in academics, I’m torn. Such job experience and training n in practical skills are valuable and hard to come by for young people. We do give school credit when possible, but the balance is tough, and who’s to say that getting a C or above in Geometry or American Government is up there with keeping the milk flowing into the tank for daily pickup, or learning house framing or interior finishing?

Often I feel it’s us that are out of touch, that schools are trying to keep up with a culture that has no understanding of the skills that it really takes to survive and prosper long term on this planet. We have no vision, our leaders no will of their own. It’s all about being “college & career ready,” and that’s not a vision, any more than I have to dress warm today because it’s cold outside, or I have to strip and hose down the prisoner because he’s next in line and I’m on a schedule.

People good at organizing schools are management types who want a smoothly running machine that has good photo ops. They are not prone to sustaining the purity of a beautiful vision. The visionaries are either inside classrooms, and, if not frustrated, might be allowed professional freedom to flesh out that vision. Or they connect with multi-billionaires who have the bucks to bypass the political process, and want a project and a legacy, and, of course, in the end, skilled workers for its market share in the global economy.

 

Tags:

Cassette of memories takes me back

My daughter has got into using the cassette player in the ’93 Accord, and also found the portable player I keep in a dusty cupboard. She wanted some tapes, so I took out a case of cassettes from the ’80s, some homemade live, others compilations. One brought back one of the best summers I had in Halifax, living with two roommates between college years. Marge of the wild cloud of untameable red hair and rich, husky voice, Lisa of untameable blonde hair both of Celtic origin for sure, and the most fun people to be around, without the need for any of the vices of youthful women (of that time and place) such as a propensity to drink too much, sleep around, and curse a lot. It was a cassette I could enjoy with my daughter, just funny interviews and role plays. One was Marge playing Large Marge of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, which then I had to show to my daughter on YouTube. We laughed about what cooked beets do to a white sauce, and sang dumb songs. That we were roommates was rather by chance–I knew of Marge’s sister through a friend, and played volleyball with Lisa in high school–she was two years younger–and then again in college. She had this great laugh, and I recall a van trip from Halifax to Florida for volleyball, and we all laughed the whole way–purged any depression that angst that might have been lurking in the corners of our psyches.

I went to a small college, attached to a big one–both public, as pretty much all universities in Canada. My community was in the quad, my academic life in the Life Sciences building, and only a little snow to cross, the years I lived on campus. My college mates, the ones I shared dining and most of my social life with,were students of the liberal arts, journalism, classics, and other humanities, with a smattering of languages, political science on the way to law, and sciences on the way to medicine. A few became teachers like me. So many smart people and a close-knit community–I was fortunate.

I got started with open mics at he college pub, getting up the nerve to sing Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” and Bernadette with a shy, bookish, baritone, bearded classics major. Halifax is a nice, small city, too, with a good night life and lots of arts, music, and culture. There were buskers, the main group known as “The Guys at the Library,” lead singer Alex…his name is somewhere in my memory. You could get a juicy, late night donair or order of fries and sit on a low stone wall and listen. I started busking my third year, which gave me pocket cash and confidence. I remember once I was singing Joni Mitchell’s “Clouds,” and a professionally-dressed man stopped to listen in the shelter of a maple across the street, then left forty bucks in my case. I liked how people can listen or not, and any positive response is a bonus.

I also made pocket money by–maybe I’ve written of this before, I don’t know–giving haircuts and patching jeans. When I was doing my teaching degree at another university, the one my son attends now, it was baking and selling cookies and cheesecakes from my dorm kitchen. The smell would waft upstairs–always chocolate chip cookies and bittersweet chocolate truffle cheesecake–and the study moles and nappers would line up. I raised money to go to a leadership conference in the capital (university student Christian fellowship) on my way west. And here I am, twenty-four years later, still with all that inside.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on November 8, 2017 in Places & Experiences

 

Tags: ,

I had no idea where this was going. I remember you said it would be like that sometimes.

I drank another glass of that tangy, sparkly, just a little sweet, juice,
which was defrosted, bottled, pressed from apples and aronia–September and October,
then mixed.

Couldn’t get enough, though my gut ached, unaccustomed to filling up
After going all day on nothing but coffee, tomato soup, and roasted almonds.
Barely time to pee between classes.

I sip again, then, hands to the keyboard, keyboard on my lap,
lap on bed, shoulders propped by pillows
against the headboard.

It snowed today, five inches or more in early November.
A wet, cold, day, windy like home, except without the smell of the bay
and red sandy loam tuning the snow pink in the ruts.

This morning two of my fingers turned dead white and tingled
even inside my wool gloves, and I shifted my weight
off surfaces irritated due to the failure of certain inner hammocks.

I don’t like you any more.
It’s not your fault–it could have been anyone,
present at the failure of certain other inner hammocks
like the one held up at one end (I tied it there)
by you.

 

Tags:

Quotidian Mysteries

When your loved one arrives home from work, you are full of the significance of the events of your day, but as they rise to the tip of your tongue to share, you realize they are…ordinary. So ordinary that to verbalize them seems ridiculous, even to a sympathetic, if tired and distracted, listener. There must be something–you search your mind for it, the event that was special, unusual, touching, surprising enough to bring out to the “How was your day?” It was a good, good day, but why, again?

No, you are not being sarcastic–not at all. Nor are you trying to glorify the ordinary, elevate basic labors to significance that, at least in a finite time frame, they do not have. But–was it only a daydream, or something from further back, before you woke, a dream? Something elusive and delightful wants to be told, but every drafted line that comes to your lips betrays only one thought each, and is that enough?

You completely cleaned the coffee drawer and lined it with beautiful solver contact paper, and it looks wonderful after months of dust and crumbs.

The chickadees in the cypress are out of the nest, perching on the smaller branches of the plum tree and vocalizing in chorus, looking unjustifiably confident.

You thought of a new idea for the parody magazine you have in the works, at least in your mind–an advertisement for lawyers specializing in prosecuting parents who allowed their children (now grown) to quit music lessons when they complained too much.

Your son, now fourteen, is playing in the big pile of topsoil like he used to when he was eight.

You heard the two young adult children discussing budgets and life goals.

The new berry bushes are in the ground and placed just right according to the permaculture plan, and you can visualize a small pond nearby where the lawn is always soggy anyway.

You joined an online local gardening group and have shared lots of tips already.

Of course they care, and would not mock or belittle you for mentioning such things, but still, the feeling is that these items of news really are special, yet only when left unsaid. Cherished in the heart, so to speak. So you keep trying to remember the thought of something larger than all that. But it doesn’t really matter, because of your secret delight.

 

 

 

Tags:

Science teacher attends poetry conference two years in a row.

Last year about this time I went at a friend’s invitation to my first ever literary weekend, a poetry retreat called LiTFUSE in Tieton, Washington. I have never mentioned it here, though I enjoyed it very much and learned a lot. The other poets were very welcoming, and I met some rather well-known ones, though I’d never heard of any of them, being from a different line of study and work, and not yet retired enough to go to poetry events or spend much time getting caught up with that scene.

I wrote a few fragments I liked, but they didn’t come to much I would want to share. It will take me years, I suppose, to learn about the craft and get enough practice and feedback to refine and publish, except occasionally here. Officially I have a lot of blog followers, although all but a handful (a very small handful) seem to have signed up hoping I’d help increase the traffic to their own blogs, because they never visited mine more than once.

I just got back from my second LiTFUSE. Next year I hope to have something to share at the open mic, and my friend and I plan to join a poetry circle to help us stay writing., as well as attend some events though the year.

The poem I just wrote and posted plods along awkwardly, but it made me laugh when it was done. It is also heart-felt. The line, “Shit! grow more trees!” came to me at a very solemn and profound moment during a reading at the conference where the poet mentioned a certain tree, and I thought, what if no one had bothered to plant that tree? That’s the background. I like getting some background to poems, if possible. I changed that line, as you can see.

The other thing is, I had to write something that did not promise to be any good, keeping the bar low so I would post it. My other poems are much more precious, so I hope to get them to the same I don’t care phase, as that always helped me get more drawing done in the past. Practice over production, at least for now. .

Tieton is a beautiful small town west of Yakima, consisting of small houses inhabited by mostly field workers, with a few more wealthy folk in fancy condos with watered gardens and rentable conference rooms. Two of the residents were put out due to dog turds in the garden, one implying the other’s dog might be the source.

One side of the town is edged with fruit warehouses and equipment shops, all quiet now. The landowners and fruit warehousers live up in the hills for the view. The light is soft and clear, the hills dry and undulating, topped by purple stone ridges in some places. Someone has put money into a square, grassy park, but the trees in it were planted long ago.

As my friend went for a walk between sessions, two small dogs started wildly yapping at us from a little front yard surrounded by a three foot high chain link fence. We responded with a few encouraging words, and out from some other corner came a black kitten not yet weaned. We melted and cooed at it as one must, then tore ourselves away out of concern for the little dogs’ vocal cords. When we were few yards down the sidewalk, the kitten squeezed right through the chain links and tottered after us. This was was really too much. Being between cats myself, it would have taken nothing for me to inquire if it was up for adoption (there was a half-grown tabby now walking interestedly toward us too, and the black cat’s mother was somewhere further down the street). But our Siberian husky would just as soon practice small mammal predation on it as make friends, so that was out of the question.

I picked the kitten up, explaining all the while in infantile tones how inadvisable it was to act in that manner, resisted my maternal impulses, and poked it back through the mesh.

Next we came upon two young Latina girls carrying brown paper envelopes, doing some sort of solicitation. The older one asked if the kittens were ours, and we explained that, no, they were just curious about us and belonged, we thought, with the dogs’ family. The girls kept walking, and I overheard them debating whether they should ask us (to sponsor them). I initiated a conversation about their fundraising drive, and soon they were sweetly thanking me for helping out. It was a warm, clear day, and I was happy.

 

Tags: , ,

Dig it, if you know how

There’s no shame in asking how to use a shovel, or, especially, its less known but much more useful cousin, the spading fork. But the young person didn’t know what she didn’t know, so I showed her. Still, she tended to stick to scraping away at the top inch (not knowing much about roots or worms either, apparently), and needed another tutorial. I hope I get the chance. Not likely, though, as she’s part of a youth team volunteering to help out in the community, including at our school, and although I went in today to help get them started on cleaning a space for a garden (a garden!), a have boundaries, and probably won’t commute the hour round trip on my vacation again.

We were allowed a small plot, not quite, but almost, the worst soil around. That’s okay, I thought, we can experiment–it can be the “before” condition–hard packed, dry, leached of nutrients. We’ll see how many wild plants can grow there anyway–which ones, and how adapted they are (and how they exemplify “grit”). Then we’ll lay down the compost, add some fish meal, and see what happens.

The plot is about 16′ by 20′, if I stretch the boundaries as much as I can without having my knuckles rapped (again). We have to border it so the mowers will steer around it, but no permanent structures, please. They were expecting a garden fanatic like me would want to build foot-high raised beds, I guess, not knowing anything (but who does nowadays?) about what raised beds are for.

The principal had his knuckled rapped too, by me, for suggesting I’d probably want to cut down the elderberry bush at the side of the site. I said I didn’t think so, since it was the only tree for a mile (I was exaggerating), and had miraculously escaped mowing by these blade-happy Dutch Reform descendants. He was humble, and accepted the jibe with good grace, although he’s of the same lineage. Even unused fields aren’t allowed to turn to meadows in their fallow years, and evolution strongly favored short, fast-reproducing plants, animals, and fungi here. Just a theory, of course.

 
 

Tags: , ,