Monday, November 28, 2005

Ajax and his new window on the world. Posted by Picasa


Ajax is an unusual name for a dog, but Ajax is unusual. He is asleep under my desk, slept in the bed last night, cuddled up to whomever he could get close to on the sofa all yesterday. The cats are a bit snitty about his arrival, but Hector is taking it in grudging stride. Undoubtedly, Ajax must feel some resistance, but he seems to be tenacious about fitting in.

We took a walk this morning and when the leash brushed one ear, now partially healed 3-4 weeks after his mutilation by some mean man in (we think) a baseball cap (since he is afraid of Michael in a baseball cap), he yelped in pain. Doctor Becky says he has been patient about the treatments to his burned ears, never once nipping at her as she routinely cleaned and medicated him over the past weeks. She speculates that lighter fluid of some kind was first put on his ears, the extent of the burns was so severe and localized.

In Greek mythology, Ajax was a rival of Hector's, but then Ajax traded his belt to Hector for his sword. Unfortunately, it was this belt that was later used to drag Hector to his death, which tore up Ajax so much that he fell on his sword in fine ancient fashion. Hollywood rewrote the story (like that wasn't dramatic enough?), making Hector the one who done Ajax in, so to speak.

We will attempt to re-write the story one more time, only this time Hector and Ajax will live as comrades side-by-side, happily ever after.

and thomas sits! Posted by Picasa

four out of five -- Posted by Picasa

Saturday, November 26, 2005

just thinking

I thought about exercising today, but I didn't get rolling. I thought I woke up with a head cold, but it never really took control. I thought about reading Don Quixote, but I didn't get to it. I thought about cleaning the kitchen, but -- same story. Maybe I just needed a day to think. Or maybe the cold was in my vessels if not in my nose, turning my blood to sludge so that I couldn't move.

Tomorrow all five grandbabies will be here AND a new dog arrives. He is a charity case from Michael's sister's vet clinic. Some evildoer set his ears on fire. He is healed though somewhat fringy in the ear department and looking for a good home. Hector, our rat terrier mix, a stray I picked up at Home Depot (where else does a smart, homeless dog go to find a home?) has been missing his Boston Terrier buddy Mike since about this time last year. We have not met the new dog and are hoping for a happy, smooth transition, which hardly seems likely with 5 kids under the age of 6 in the house. Whew.

If today was a day for thinking, tomorrow looks to be a day of chaos. My Uncle Bill told me we should always rest when the battle is far away, so we have the strength to face whatever is coming. Something triggered a slow down in me today.

Now, I'm thinking maybe that was a good thing.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


I've been thinking about this word for three days. I saw it in an article in a magazine and have since composed at least three maybe decent but different poems about the word "watchful." None of these musings did I write down. All the words are now lost. Except the one I kept my eye on -- watchful. I need to write it down.

I had an email from a friend saying that she doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving because of the native American experience. Of course, she said, of course. I guess I can see that, but I LOVE this holiday. Friends and family get together, take maybe a minute to be grateful for another year on the planet. The stores shut down for a day, we actually have to talk to one another as people and not as consumers. How many cultures have harvest festivals, I wonder? Doesn't the multicultural aspect of harvest celebration make it okay? Please? The world is torn apart, gratitude is a carpet we stand on to give us solid footing when we reach for hope, that thing with feathers. So elusive.

We need to be watchful of gratitude least it slip away like an unwritten poem leaving us empty-handed.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Chapter 3 Don Quixote

I'm thinking that I don't want to make a separate blog entry for every chapter, but truly, this reading is so complex that my eyes tend to glaze over before I reach the end of the sentence. I need to incorporate comprehension strategies I've learned from strategies that Work and other books. I'm using post it notes so that I don't have to write in the margins of this fine book.

Chapter 3, zoom in on the landlord, a wag. What's a wag? It's someone who cheats widows (cold), ruins maidens (nasty), and swindles minors (takes candy from babies). He has been around and has street smarts. Naturally he is quick to pick up on the fact that Quixote is crackers, but the landlord decides to humor him and agrees to do the official dubbing, since the errant knight thinks he's a governor. In fact Quixote thinks he's hanging with royalty but in fact his fellow companions at the inn are wenches and a pig gelder. Meantime, Quixote's gear is still on the watering tank and he's wandering around in his shirt and helmet with the green ribbons (how's that for an image?). Along comes some carrier who wants to give his team of horses water, so he moves the armor off the watering tank. Quixote sees this and clocks the guy with his lance. He doesn't smite him dead, just unconscious. After this Quixote is all full of himself and when another carrier comes and commits the same crime of touching the armor, he smites him, too. The other guests start to freak out and rain stones on the half cracked knight. The landlord can't wait to get rid of this nut case and dubs him quickly and unceremoniously in a field and Quixote starts speechifying again, but the landlord can't wait to get rid of him before the rest of the guests tear the inn apart. He doesn't even charge him for the night, he just shows him the door and tells him Godspeed, which is medieval for get lost.

NCTE When Teachers Convene

When teachers convene, the subject is books. The writing, reading, sharing, politics, philosophies of books. The passing conversations in the hallways, the talk over dinner, the convention exhibitors and sessions are all about books, how to make them happen, which are the best and how do we get more people to grow into, from and through books. From poems no longer or more memorable than a sneeze to complete works that have lived through centuries, teachers come together and for what? For books.

Katie and I presented together for the first time, which was so cool. New and natural at the same time. We were so into reviewing and revising our presentation on the way from Cleveland to Pittsburgh, we missed the exit and drove to Monroeville before we realized our mistake. Loved hearing the droll humor and inspiration of Frank McCourt whose impact was not muted by the caverous room or projected images. Lots of friends to hug and new projects to discuss.

Three days in Pittsburgh at NCTE, friends, colleagues from across the country and a virtual train load of books. Quite a weekend.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Chapter 2 Don Quixote

Cervantes seems to be telling this story with a wink. Our hero is wearing a patched up helmet held on with green ribbons tied in impossible knots, can this be anything but comical? Quixote mounts his steed and leaves from the back door of his yard on the road to his first day in pursuit of his grand purpose. He's thinking though that what could be considered knightly might only be criminal if he is not officially dubbed by an official dubber. He's all worked up about this as he approaches a medieval Red Roof Inn. He sees this dump as a castle; being delusional has its advantages when it comes to touring Spain on zero dollars a day. He wants to be greeted by banners and trumpets, instead he is met by swine and strumpets, so naturally he is happy as a pig in mud. He's dead tired and starved and wants a trout, but the only thing around is troutlets and he can't eat them because of the ribbons covering his face. The "fair maidens" feed him through a reed while he claims he lives to serve them (this is a common male/female theme). His convoluted philosophies totally crack them up. The innkeeper is a pudgy old guy who welcomes him in and takes his armor (except for his shirt and helmet) and sets it on top of the watering tank. Quixote thinks that this guy is a high governor of the castle, so he hands over his gear, and continues to strut around the courtyard, still all bent out of shape about his LOD (lack of dubbing).

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Joining the ranks of struggling readers

Here's a challenge. Michael and I received a dinner invite for next April in the mail this week. Why so far in advance? There is a requirement for the dinner, we must have read Don Quixote, the original by Cervantes who, I found out in the fine print, died on the same day as Shakespeare. Just watching the movie adaptation of the Man of La Mancha won't do at all -- all 1000 pages must be read.

On the shelf, as a stoic member of the Britannica Great Books collection I inherited from my first husband, I found the text, dusted it off and last night read the first chapter of Part 1. Cervantes may be a long time dead, but the man has a bit of a sense of humor, I was pleased to find. The language is complex though, requiring me to read and reread paragraphs before I start to get it.

A lot happens in this first chapter. We learn that Don Quixote is really a mad country gentleman who is arrogant and ill-conditioned (full of himself and out of shape) but also affable and well-bred (not cranky and from a decent family). And he is also thoroughly mad, "his wits being quite gone." Anyway, he is determined to "make a knight-errant of himself, roaming the world over in full armor and on horseback in quest of adventures, righting every kind of wrong, and exposing himself to peril and danger from which, in the issue, he was to reap eternal renown and fame." He dubs himself Quixote and his horse Rocinante.

Then he thinks he needs (naturally) a lady fair, so he picks a local farm girl who he used to have a crush on, but she doesn't know he is alive. But that's okay with him, because he's nuts.

end of chapter 1. Maybe this won't be so bad. I just need to take time to digest it along the way. Rethink it in modern terms.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

this is the gig

Today started with aerobics to get the blood pumping. A short family visit, trip to the store and home to sit in a leather chair by the fire, laptop humming to work on the new book.

This is it. Days and weeks away from home for a few days like these. Ahh.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Math Tanka Posted by Picasa

McCord Junior High, Sylvania, OH

This was fun -- They broadcast my assembly presentation from McCord Junior High to two other middle schools, using all kinds of technology. In the old days, they would have bussed the other schools in, but instead they saw me on a screen. The pluses were that I could see (or be seen) by more kids. The down side was that not only did I not get to shake any hands there, I didn't feel as closely connected to the kids in the assembly at McCord. I think we are so accustomed to watching people on a screen, that more kids were watching my projected image than looking at me. And I wound up playing to a camera rather than to the live audience. I know this is the wave of the future, I'm not sure.

One thing I am sure of is that I don't want to remember McCord for their technology (which was state of the art). I was blown away by the poems the kids were writing, the ones that were posted about the building and the ones the 6th graders wrote in the two days I was there. Many thanks to Judy Bashforth for all her hard work and to the other teachers for preparing the kids so well.

The picture I'm posting is of two math Tanka poems from the hallway display. All of them were great, this just happened to be the photo that turned out the clearest.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Microsociety in Toledo

Birmingham Elementary is a Micro society school ( – the kids, the first graders, asked me about being a poet as a job. Did I set out to make money at it? Was it always just a hobby? The kids were engaged and busy working on building their community.

In the shadow of the largest flour mill in the world (second hand info) which just happens to be in Toledo, in an aging Hungarian neighborhood sits Birmingham. Its old school – really old school, with the electrical wiring running on the outside of many of the walls. But the aging physical building is not to be confused with its revolutionary approach to education. The kids get paid in Birmingham bucks for participating in their business ventures. They hold elections and produce products in cross curricular activities. I’m not much of a fan of judging kids based on test scores, but its hard to not take notice when a school’s scores jump from 25% passing to over 80%. Zowie. Attendance is up, absenteeism and discipline problems way down. There is only one other microsociety school in OH.

So, I went to the website and guess what? The program was established by a poet!

Pretty exciting stuff coming out of Clinger’s old neighborhood. Dinner was chicken paprikash take out from Tony Packo’s. Yumm.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Back home at Bay Village Middle School

This is the first time my daughter Katie and I ever did a teacher workshop together -- at her school, which was much more stressful for her than for me. What is it about presenting to our own colleagues that freaks us out so much. I remember feeling the same way when I had to do such things in the old business life.

But the four hour workshop went well -- Katie even survived me showing a slide of her in the bathtub with her sister when they were both little.

I'm a mother.

Mothers do these things.

The teachers wrote questioning poems in small groups arranged in advance by subject area. The science teachers wrote one on reproduction. All I can say is, good thing the kids weren't there. One thing you have to say about middle school teachers in general -- they are (have to be) fearless.

In between the four hour workshop and the drive to Toledo -- a long bath. Just a year ago we were up to our necks in construction dust on a new bedroom/bath addition. Glad to have that in past tense.

The wind was in a hurry and at cross purposes with the turnpike on the way to Toledo. Listening to the election returns on the radio... The voter reform initiative calling for a bi-partisian committee to oversee elections in OH went down in flames. Sometimes the winds blow in the face of all logic -- I guess the best anyone can do is try and keep it on the road.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Charlottesville, VA

Charlottesville is south of D.C. and a full day at school is followed by a long drive back to Cleveland. So many flights have been cancelled that it was impossible to get a flight that would get me back in time for my day at Bay Middle on Tuesday. Michael did the driving through wild and wonderful West Virginia. Hours added onto hours. Too much driving the last few weeks. Next week is NCTE and then most of December at home, and boy howdy, does that sound good.

I had a conversation in the hallway of the school in Charlotteville with an Indian (Eastern)/American teacher about how we both love Tagore. I keep one of his books, Creative Unity, at close hand at all times. It is like the Bible, only less violent -- open any page and find an inspiration. It is a crime that his poetry is not taught in the U.S. What a pleasure to stand in a little spot of sun on a fall day and talk poetry. Looking back on all that was Monday, at first I thought of the back killing drive. But now, rubbing the memory of the day between my fingers and forehead, I decide to remember that patch of sunlight instead.

It is a choice -- what we decide to remember.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Cincinnati, OH

The Ramada Inn is set for rennovation, but unfortunately for me, not before I pull in late Thursday night. The room smells of old smoke, ground into the dingy carpet and painted on the walls. In the bathroom is a whirlpool tub that no longer whirls and a steam apparatus that must have seemed like a good idea at the time. I’d like to walk out, but it’s too late.

On the way down, I got a phone call that began “everyone is okay, but . . .” Not what anyone wants to hear. Michael’s son Max had been in a car accident. The fact that I wrote in my blog about a car accident just this morning is downright spooky. From this date forward, I think the entire family should just stay home on November 4. I am grateful to make the Ramada Inn, dreary as it is. Lots to be grateful for.

Greener Elementary is far from dreary – a fun school that has prepared for the author visit and is (literally) hopping with excitement about writing. The principal explains her attire and that of her teachers – if they pay money, they are allowed to wear jeans on Friday. This is how they raise money for the assemblies since the parent group isn’t very well-funded. Why don’t stories like this appear on Fox news as they complain about teachers? These teachers are so intent on their kids getting a diverse experience in school, they pay for assemblies themselves.

Extended day – I drove from Cincinnati to Purcellville, VA to see Kelly & Co. on Friday after school. This is a long drive – complicated by the fact that somewhere in West Virginia I managed to get off of the Robert Byrd Appalachian Highway and on the scenic bypass – which went on and on with 15 mile per hour hair pin turns through the mountains, herds of deer ambling beside the twisting road and no cell phone service. Nada. It is undoubtedly a beautiful drive in the daylight, but it loses its charm after dark and I frankly scared myself a few times wondering what would happen if I slipped down a side bank or ran out of gas.

Got into Purcellvile about 1:30AM, very grateful. Had a great time with Benny, who is enjoying reading (mostly memorizing) Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and Where is the Green Sheep? Danny knows all his letters, but still speaks a foreign language and Thomas can almost sit up. Michael arrived on Saturday afternoon, by plane. No detours. Smart move.

A day to celebrate

21 years ago today, Katie, Kelly and I were stopped at a traffic light in North Olmsted, OH talking about whether or not we should continue cable or cancel and save the money. When we all woke up, we were disoriented and bruised. We had been hit from behind by an absent minded speeder. I remember hesitating one split second, aware but afraid to look to my right -- did Katie remember to click her seat belt when we left the mall? Still unconcious, she had remembered the seat belt and had not gone through the windshield like a missle. Kelly was in the back seat and crumpled on the floor. She was taken from the scene on one of those scary back boards, her neck still gives her problems. I had bruised lungs from my seat belt, which is a whole lot better than massive head injuries, but has caused me to be a little short of breath ever since.

Every year I remember that November 4 is a day to celebrate that we all walked away from that terrible crash with minor injuries. I always take a few moments to be grateful.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Topeka, Indiana

This is Amish country in Indiana. At least half of the kids in this district don't watch American Idol and wear simple clothes. Whenever I have contact with the Amish community I wonder if the rest of us aren't missing something a little less hectic. The drive was golden with buggies on the periphery. The children were bussed in for the programs, which went smoothly thanks to a coordinated effort by all the title one and other teachers. It was a great day. Right across the street from the school they were harvesting. I just stood there and watched for a while, city girl that I am.