Sunday, December 4, 2016

Messiness, the part I left out

The book on Messiness that I wrote about yesterday covered other types of messiness.  I wrote about them and then deleted them.  After I posted I regretted taking those parts out, I save the biggest chunk I cut, knowing that I needed to say something about it, but it didn't fit in an article about household disorder and the creativity it can inspire.

It has to do with deliberately caused messiness.  Messiness used as a tool for manipulation.  We've seen this employed in the past few weeks, the three AM tweets.  Those were diversionary messiness, messiness to cover, distract from the real issues. It's DT's "look at this outrageous thing I've said, don't read the article on the lawsuit I just settled, it's boring!" situation.  This situation has happened before, whenever a prominent person or organization is under press scrutiny and attention needs to be drawn elsewhere to minimize the actual damage, it happens.  The next time any of these topics are outrageously presented in the news: women's choice, school prayer, flag burning, gay marriage, illegal immigration...anything that gets people really riled up, then scour the news for something that should be front page news, but isn't, because everyone is in an uproar over the hot button issues. It's the movie Wag the Dog, only it's not a movie.
 


Messiness can be a political weapon.  I expect to see much more of it in the next few years, but I hope I'm wrong.

In the meantime, I probably should clean out the stuff in the back of my fridge.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Messiness and Validation

Messy: The Power of Disorder to Change Our Lives by Tim Harford, was sitting there on the "new" books shelf in the library.  Now given that I struggle with a large degree of messiness, and I am the neatest person in my home, I just had to read this one.  When I brought it home I placed it on my husband's pillow, hoping he'd find validation in his piles of stuff, but he thought it was a not so subtle hint that maybe he should clean up a bit. He clearly didn't flip through the book, yet, I'll see if I can get him to do that. I think he'd enjoy it and I think that many of the readers of this blog would enjoy it, so that is why I am writing this.

Maybe it is confirmation bias that made me enjoy it so much, but maybe not.

The book explains why my vertical filing system actually works, and how my messy desk can provide links to creative ideas, how seeming disasters can lead to leaps forward that wouldn't have otherwise occurred. It talks about how students who set monthly goals and plans actually do better than one who write daily plans, which connects to how I used to plan eight week units of study for my classes by immersing myself into the material, finding art, science, mathematical and historical connections along the way.  I'd then make a checklist of the activities that needed to be covered over the quarter, some writing, additional types of reading...and then I would provide my students with lots of materials, books on every reading level that I could find, art materials that connected, science books that connected, and then gave them time to preview the materials before we began the unit. The direction the unit took was chosen by the questions the kids asked after looking at the materials, not by me sitting at the kitchen table filling out a plan book on Sunday evening.  It was messy.  It was different every year.  It was rich. It was hard. It worked. The kids scored well on the tests. I could never do this today, messiness is not allowed.


The book validates, my messiness, my nest of books next to my bed. The contents of the pile give a reflection on where I am at the moment, several weeks ago the contents were extremely different heavy on environmental stuff, but then, the election happened. There are several on foods around the world written for children, a book on character, a Korean cookbook, a book on small press books, a book on trails, a book on Roger Williams(8x great grandpa)/separation of church and state, a social history of American art, two novels, one for a book club, several seed catalogs, journals and notebooks.  Now how I will create my future with all this messiness?  We'll have to wait and see, just don't eat the stuff in the back of my fridge, read the book, you'll understand.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Pleasant Surprises

The trip last month did have some pleasant surprises, Nebraska, for instance.

Previous to this trip, I envisioned Nebraska as a giant cornfield or wheat field, flat with a very slight roll to the land with a big insurance company on the eastern side where Marlon Perkins' spent his time when he wasn't encouraging his sidekick, Jim, to be surrounded by hungry hyenas in an open Land Rover.  Like this:




I had told my daughter that she should watch for when the road was long enough and straight enough and flat enough to be a good art lesson on vanishing points, and Nebraska did have its share, like this:





I was pleasantly surprised about Lincoln, Nebraska.  After going through St. Louis, which seemed run down and completely dug up for construction--Lincoln seemed clean, cared for, appreciated, artsy...not at all what I expected.

While some of Nebraska did fit my stereotype, other parts just didn't fit.  Like this:
Chimney Rock, NE

Court House and Jail House Rocks, NE

Scotts Bluff, NE

Chimney Rock, NE
Scotts Bluff, NE
Scotts Bluff, NE


 It was awe inspiring, it was quiet, it was not what I had expected.  I had read the on-line articles about the area and it had seemed interesting, but it certainly was better in real life.  These formations were along the Oregon Trail and I imagined what it would have been like to have to walk the distance we had just driven and what it was like back then to see these rock formations for the first time, without warning and a bunch of electronic images to give you the heads up of what they might have looked like.

We stayed later than we had anticipated, we went into town right as the skies darkened and decided to find a motel instead of a campground after we found dinner at a Mexican restaurant.  We didn't have room reservations, but we were out in the middle of nowhere and the little town had lots of motels.  Bad move.  We had taken more southerly route to Yellowstone to avoid the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, we were a couple of hundred miles from Sturgis, but that didn't seem to matter.  Between the rally, some small medical conference, and highway workers doing a major construction project every motel/hotel room in the town was booked, except two.  The two most expensive ones, of course. We were exhausted, it was completely dark out--dark unlike most East Coast folks can appreciate there were no cities for hundreds of miles, just a few little towns-- it was about 10:30 PM by the time we found our outrageously priced room/suite at the Marriott, dumbfounded that a place so remote could be booked up.

The next day we turned northward to Agate Fossil Beds, it was hot!  If I were to go again I would try to choose a time more into fall or in the spring, the place seemed fascinating, but it was hovering around a hundred and there was no shade.



We didn't end up taking one of the longer hikes, just a shorter two mile hike, it was just too hot! We spent a long time in the visitor center to make up for it.

In between looking at extinct rhino skeletons and an in depth history about the man who donated the land to the US government for the park and Native American relations. The ranger in the building told the girls about what it was like for the kids who attend high school in the area.  My daughter keeps telling everyone about the kids in Nebraska who are 14 and live more than three miles from school, who can drive to school, because they don't have buses.  The ranger's son was valedictorian of his class and the top 25% in his class of 4 kids.  He received a steer roping scholarship,  despite the fact that he doesn't steer rope and another kid in his class did, because there was the requirement that the student be in the top 25% of his class. They did away with having a salutatorian unless the student had a 3.5 GPA or over.  She talked about how they would patch together sports teams with the 16 or so kids in the school.

The best parts of the trip are often when we go off the beaten path and spend time talking to people about the area we were visiting and their lives, like the day we needed a break and stopped off to look at a Pony Express stop and decided to pop in to the local historical society museum.  We saw a barbed wire exhibit, donated by a man who clearly had a different view on life than many.


We chatted with one lady about her family farm, she seemed hesitant to talk about how many acres her family had in corn and soybeans (which they grow when they have to) and seemed shocked that Maryland would have 4-H and farmers!

Yes, Nebraska was a pleasant surprise.  I was supposed to write about the Black Hills today,oops.  Maybe next time.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Weirdness, sorry

Two people have noted that they have received very old blog posting mailed to them.

I have changed my security, so I hope the weirdness stops.

Let me know I you received anything that seemed odd.

Thanks!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Urban Yellowstone

I've had two of my readers tell me that what I wrote in my last post was a bit of a tease and that they want more stories about the trip, so this is for you K.S. and A.S.!

Reflecting on the trip west, I most fondly think of the evening at Boysen State Park in Wyoming.  There were approximately 40 sites in the campground, six were filled.  The river ran right next to the campsite, rising up from the far side of the river was a steep canyon wall. The park description said that there might be big horned sheep about.  We arrived about an hour and a half before sundown, the light on the canyon walls made them glow.  The road that outlined the far side of the campground was not heavily traveled and after dark and in the morning there was even less traffic.
Boysen State Park--the river cannot be seen from this angle, it is just beyond the large trees of our campsite.

After dinner, I stared down the river and drew in a deep breath, as I scanned for goats. It was stunning, it was quiet, it was a great moment to be alive.  I wanted to spend more time there, but our reservations for Yellowstone started the next day, and if we missed the first night we'd lose the whole reservation.  The girls weren't happy with the pit toilets, so they were very happy to move along.


The next morning we drove through the Wind River Canyon and the Native American reservation there.  It was the first time either of the girls (my daughter's friend, who has become a regular in our explorations, joined us for the trip) had been in a canyon, behind us in the car they gasped at the height of the walls and the rock formations.

We continued on through somewhat less stunning parts of Wyoming.

Side note--thirty-ish years ago I traveled through Wyoming and the choices of music on the radio were Country, Western, or Christian.  This summer we found a really cool alternative rock station, NPR and quite a lot of heavy metal. Things have been a-changing in Wyoming.  Side note on a side note, I had to submit my work time card while we were in Cody, WY, so we located the local library to get a hard connection because the previous attempt on a Wi-Fi connection didn't go through.  I should have taken pictures of that library.  There were sculptures, chairs that were arranged in ways that could encourage conversations, open spaces, quiet corners, tasteful color combinations that didn't come across as if the lowest bidder won the contract.  The bathroom was nicer than most bathrooms in fancy restaurants. I wanted to take the library home with me, but we just couldn't fit it in the car, not with the tissue boxes and everything.  Side note on the side note, in the parking lot for the library was a pick-up truck, it had a sticker on its bumper that read, " Welcome to Wyoming - Now go home & take a wolf with you."

That afternoon we drove into Yellowstone.  Mile after mile of the hillsides were covered with gray, leafless, branch-less, bark-less, scorched trees left from the fire of 1988.  A few small trees were attempting to make a go of it, but with little success.  I kept hoping that around the next curve there would be lush green forest, only to be disappointed. After the uplifting experience of drinking coffee alongside Wind River that morning, I started to think, "We left that awe inspiring place for this???"




Eventually, we did arrive at a point where the new trees were growing and there was a bit of hope rising from the forest floor.  We passed some small lakes and caught a view of Yellowstone Lake, things were looking up.  We drove into Fishing Bridge Village, there were cars everywhere.  Pedestrians were crossing willy-nilly, RV's were trying to make turns they couldn't make, parking lots were full to capacity.  The traffic was stop and go for a few minutes.  We didn't end up with a campsite at the campground at Fishing Village, because there were too many bears hanging about in the area and sleeping in a tent was prohibited.

We drove on a few more minutes to Bridge Bay Campground and checked in.  We were in section E.  We drove past a giant open field with campers and tents, and on to an area that had trees between the sites, which is where we ended up. We set up camp, relieved that were were not going to be taking it down again the next day, since we were staying four nights. As we started dinner the people from the neighboring campsite arrived back at their site.  They had been there several days.  They warned us to get up and out early, because the parking lots near Old Faithful, West Thumb, and Mammoth Hot Springs  and others all filled up later in the day, making it difficult to see anything.

The next morning we were up at six and out by seven.  By 10 AM, the tour buses started rolling in to the lots, disgorging hundreds of tourists from virtually every country in the world.  We arrived at Old Faithful around 11 AM, after making several stops along the way.  The lot was three quarters filled, and by the time we left cars were following people leaving the site to their cars, so that they could snag their parking spot. It was like the mall the day after Thanksgiving.  We ate an early lunch of peanut butter sandwiches as we watched ravens vandalize Harley Davidsons, stealing their snacks from their packs, as on-lookers tried to shoo them away, being very careful not to touch the motorcycles, because, no human with a shred of sense would mess with someone's Harley. Ravens apparently don't care.
Peanuts!!

It kept turning right as I was snapping pictures, I guess it didn't want to be identified.


It appears that other brands of bikes are inspected also.

We followed the crowd to Old Faithful, there was a Trex deck with benches forming a huge semi-circle, so that we could share this wonder of nature with a couple thousand other people.  There was a large hotel complex, several shops, restaurants, and finally, the Old Lodge, which was the only thing that I remembered from my last two visits in '87 and '90.  The rest were brand new.  We waited 20 or so minutes for the geyser, watched it spew for about three minutes and then moved with the wide river of people into the interpretive area. When it came time to find our car, we first had to figure out which lot we had parked in, and then had to use the remote to make our huge beast of an SUV beep, so that we could find it in the sea of SUV's and RV's.  I wasn't feeling connected to nature from this experience.

It wasn't until much later in the day when we saw a herd of elk that I started to feel a connection.  Later in the afternoon we experienced a long "bison jam" south of Yellowstone Canyon, complete with photographers getting too close to the animals.  We sang Dumb Ways to Die for the lady who risked everything to get a better angle.

We continued to be up and out of the site early, because we saw the truth in what the other campers had told us.  Later in the day it was a very urban experience, not what we had anticipated.  Crowds of people milling about, trying to keep tabs on the girls in the knots of people, waiting for people to leave to be able to use a picnic table in a picnic area, not seeing some things because we couldn't park, it wasn't how I had pictured our experience in my mind.  My last visits were nothing like this, it had all seemed so remote to me at that time.  At times during this trip, I just wanted to leave and go back to Wind River or Scotts Bluff, NE.  Sure, Yellowstone was beautiful and I'm glad the girls were able to experience it, but I wish it was a little more like my first experiences there.

Later in our visit, a lone bison arrived in the field next to our campground loop and it settled in for a snooze around sunset.  The following evening a herd of deer grazed their way through the back of our site and on to a patch of grass just on the other side of the road.  The girls froze in place as the deer walked around them.  The deer seemed to pay no attention to us.


A few sites down young kids were whooping it up, but the deer seemed unflustered by it all and eventually wandered off a half-hour later. Those are the things I want to remember, not the hot parking lots and the crowds and the desolate hills scorched thirty years ago.

When it was time to move on, I was ready.  The Black Hills were our nest destination, with Mt Rushmore...but that is my next post.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Trip West and Back, highlights



Before the trip the drama began.  My husband called me at work.  He never calls me at work. We had a new radiator put in our monster van, Bluehemoth, and the result was a pressure change in the engine that popped a couple of freeze plugs.  The prognosis from the mechanic was that we could drive it locally, but he wouldn't recommend that we drive it in the dessert or anything like that.  Um, most of the West is a desert.  We rapidly executed plan D or E or Q (I've lost track), found a relatively cheap rental for a mini van on Hotwire, and said we are going on this vacation this year dammit, and that stupid van will not get in the way again. (The computer in the van went right before we were supposed to go last year, so we cancelled and went to WV instead, fun, but not quite what we had had in mind.)

I went home and furiously started paring down the stuff in the pile to pack into the van.
I had had everything organized in plastic tubs, labelled with their contents, etc.  It was a work of art.  Instead we took tubs jammed to bursting, with stuff crammed in to take up less space.  There was a pile in the dining room of the stuff that did not get to go and a pile in the living room that we would attempt to cram into the van.

Then we went to pick up the rental the after work the evening before we are set to leave at 5AM. Because it was a Hotwire transaction, we had to drive 50 minutes to Baltimore to pick up the van at the airport, and then drive back home. They tried to get us to pay for an upgrade for an SUV, but we decided not to go with it.  Once we were in the garage waiting for our van, and waiting for our van some more, the attendant came over and broke the news to us that there were no more vans available and would we like a 2017 Ford Excursion instead?
 Sure! We got the SUV, but didn't have to pay the extra $$$ for it.  An Excursion was an aptly named vehicle for this trip. I climbed up into it, there's a reason they put running boards on the thing, and sat in it for the first time and was terrified by its enormity in the close space of the parking garage.  I pulled out of the parking space while warning a family standing nearby to clear the way, because I usually drive a compact car and this was out of my league. They stepped aside and chuckled.

We made it home by 10 PM, packed it to the ceiling until about 11:30 and collapsed into bed until the alarm went off at 4 AM. My daughter's friend, who accompanied us on the trip, showed up promptly at 5 AM and we crammed her stuff into our ginormous shiny black box of a vehicle and began our journey.

Now, every trip of this kind generate some stories and memes.  One meme of the vacation was the evil tissue box.  It seemed no matter where it was placed in the car it either fell out, landed corner first on someone's head or was no where to be seen when it was needed, right now!  By the end of the trip that evil tissue box was mashed and twisted, and pliable from all the bending, but it seems to have ceased to be evil.  It sits quietly next to my side of the bed, it seems contrite.

One song that we sang over and over again was  Dumb Ways to Die  
after hearing over and over again about tourists doing thoughtless things and doing themselves serious damage last year at Yellowstone (5 or 6 gored by bison while taking selfies) or the person who stepped into the acidic water to rescue his dog (who shouldn't have been near the hotsprings--the signs are everywhere--no pets allowed here--dangerous ground)...we saw some potential of the events repeating themselves, but we did not witness any injuries.  We drove along watching the huffing bull bison from our car and saw at least two women put their lives at risk to get good photos,




 we saw people walking out too far on unstable cliffs, people wrestling with their handbag dogs to keep them from hopping into the beautiful hot springs and mud pots, filled with boiling water. Whenever the girls proposed wandering off a little ways I told them that I didn't want anyone singing "Dumb Ways to Die" for them, so they better think before doing anything.

Some of the trip was a great surprise for me, Nebraska, for instance, the western side of Nebraska had amazing rock formations and fossils. 
I loved it.  I hadn't expected to.  The people were really nice, we chatted with one lady in a historic site for quite a while.  The site featured a barbed wire collection, the things I had never thought of. Lincoln Nebraska looked like a nice city (in August).

We were able to see the Cahokia Mounds, a place I had never heard of until I was around thirty.  A student in my class, Miguel, did a paper on the Cahokia. Puzzled, I did a search on the brand, new internet connection (we had just had it put in at the school, it was 1994-ish).  It turns out that in the late 1100's Cahokia was larger than London was at that time.  It had giant man made pyramids made out of what they had, soil.  Pyramids made with over 50,000,000 baskets of soil, that must have been some undertaking.  Since that time I have wanted to see these North American pyramids that history seems to have ignored, so we stopped in Collinsville, IL, which is near St. Louis, MO and climbed the mounds. From the top, I took a picture of St. Louis.

St Louis is under construction, everything seems to be getting dug up, the GPS was pretty useless, because the roads were closed and then there was the semi that tipped over on the bridge at rush hour, right after the GPS told us to turn down a road after we had passed it. It seemed run down and dirty. The experience did not make me wish to return to St Louis.

Then there was the time the GPS sent us on loop-de-loops around a small town, until we decided to ignore it and get back onto the highway. Then "U-Turn in 639 miles"...really?

There are little things we noticed along the way.  In order to be a campground host you must have at least one, if not two, cute little dogs.



This pooch was at Boysen State Park in the Wind River Canyon in Wyoming.  It is a beautiful spot with a river alongside the sites and the facing canyon wall.  There are notes to look for bighorn sheep, but we didn't see any there, we had to wait until we arrived at the Badlands in South Dakota to see those.
Our site in Boysen State Park

One of the most fun stories of the trip is from when we arrived in the parking lot of Old Faithful.  We had some time before the next predicted eruption, so we made PB sandwiches and ate them in the parking lot.  While sitting there we spotted a couple of ravens climbing all over a couple of Harley Davidson motorcycles, people kept trying to shoo them away, but they kept coming back. A few minutes later we realized that they were rummaging through the packs of the bikes and removing things.  They stopped when they scored what appeared to be a bag of nuts, soon other ravens appeared, as if on cue to share the booty.

There were so many things we passed by on this trip that seemed interesting, but we just didn't have time for it all.  Maybe next time.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Need Real Life Hacks!

You'd thought I had quit this blog didn't, you?

I have been working, and with that my amount of free time without interruptions (meaning alone time) has gone down close to zero, so the blogging just hasn't happened.

I just ran across a website that gives clever life hacks for women, I find most of them puzzling.  broken lipstick repairs (my kid was about eight looking through my purse for gum or my sunglasses and came across a lipstick, pulled it out and asked me what it was, because she had never seen it used), putting on bracelets when you're alone, using a wine bottle to store bracelets, making your own nail polish using loose eye shadow and clear nail polish... the only one that I thought was sort of useful was to wear big thick socks with new shoes around the house to break them in.  I've been doing that for years. The rest were silly.  It's time to stop treating women as if they are silly, we know better.

Here are real problems that I think there is need for a hack:

I want a life hack to help carry a sleeping 30 lb toddler into the house on icy pavement, with five bags of groceries, unlocking the deadbolt and the knob and keeping two cats from darting outside when the door first opens. (Clearly an old one, my kid is 14.)  I did it many times, I want it to be easier for moms in the future.  I have no idea how I did it, I just did. For many years when someone asks me if I need help with all my bags, I flash back to these instances and think, where were you then????

I want alarms to signal that an object that has been placed on the counter really needs to go into the recycle bin.


I also want alarms to go off if my glass of water is approached by a cat.  Apparently my little fuzzies prefer filtered water, they drink out of my ever-present water glass whenever it is left unattended. If they cannot reach the water because the level is too low in the glass, they just knock it over and drink the puddle, as it ruins everything around it.  I bought plastic cups with tops and straws, but I like to drink out of glass, not plastic, I'm weird that way.

I want a remote that will turn off all my kid's electronics at once from the far side of the house, and/or a microphone that cuts into her headphone Skype conversation to ask her to take the dog out or to join the world of the living, so that I don't have to stop making meatballs, wash my hands, place meatballs in a location where the dog/cats won't sample them, walk across the house, only to scare the crud out of her when I tap her on the shoulder to tell her she has to take the dog out.

 Now those would be useful hacks!!