Thursday, May 29, 2014

May Poem

May's poem is definitely a very rough draft of a poem that kept nudging at me during a meeting today. I tried to participate in the meeting, and I think I did a pretty good job of listening and responding to my colleagues while at the same time jotting down words/ideas for the poem. Still some work to do as I feel like I'm just scratching the surface of what I really want from it.

Alongside the Path

Yesterday on my way to work,
as I cycled along the path
where last week I'd come across
a beautiful dead bird,
a long-beaked, feathers of golden brown and black bird,
maybe a Long-Billed Dowicher,
not known for these parts, but somehow here
and maybe, hopefully, just reached the end
of its time,
I spotted a bicycle chain in the grass
and slowed,
but then kept going,
thinking I would retrieve it on my way home.
But I didn't.
I forgot about it.

This morning on my way to work,
as I cycled along the path,
I remembered the broken bicycle chain
and looked for it,
spotting its snake-like repose
partly on the path, partly in the grass.
Dead, like the Long-Billed Dowicher,
but ugly in its death,
the silvery shine long eaten away by neglect
allowing a thick layer of rust to build,
stiffening the links into tangled kinks,
until one, it only takes one,
failed, cleaved into jagged halves,
and the whole is simply discarded,
easily forgotten,
alongside the path.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Mulling Over the What If's

Fifteen years ago, I became a single mom with three kids. It was a chaotic, painful, stressful time in my life, but I thought then, and I still believe today, that I made the right choice for me and the kids. I don't talk about this time of my life much as I simply don't want to dredge up memories that sadden me. This past weekend, though, I had to face some of those memories, one of which still bothers me all these years later.

When the kids' dad and I decided to part ways, one other person in the mix got left behind. A little girl. The kids' half sister. My step-daughter. I agonized over leaving her, often trying to figure out a way to bring her with us, but I simply couldn't since she wasn't mine in a biological sense or a legal sense. Not long after we left, Spunky Step-Daughter found herself without a home. Her own mother left and made it clear she didn't want to be found, and her dad, my ex, stepped away as well, turning the care of his daughter over to his sister. While I wanted to go get Spunky Step-Daughter, I knew she was in good hands and would be okay with her aunt.

For the most part, she was okay, but there were times during the next ten years that Spunky Step-Daughter faced difficulties, mostly due to her parents. Her mother stayed in hiding for several years, not letting anyone know where she was and how she was. And her dad sank further into his own issues, sometimes letting those issues spiral out of control and letting them affect his behavior around her in a negative way. I would receive notes every now and then during these times, telling me what was happening. My heart would ache for Spunky Step-Daugher, and I would think I had failed her by not bringing her with us.

This weekend, we went back to where it all began to celebrate the high school graduation of my nephew. My sister-in-law and I have stayed close all these years, making sure we keep in touch and celebrate milestones along the way. When we arrived at the restaurant I saw Spunky Step-Daughter sitting at a table with her boyfriend (she says fiance though he won't make a firm commitment and set a wedding date) and her one-year-old daughter. Nearly 25 years old now, Spunky Step-Daughter is a mom to a four-year-old and a one-year-old, and step-mom to a six-year-old. When she opened her mouth and spoke, what I heard was not the same spunky, funny, sassy Step-Daughter I remember. Instead, what I heard was a softness, so soft I could barely hear what she was saying, and a timidity I'd never seen before. All the feelings of having failed her bubbled to the surface.

Later that evening, as we sat in the bleachers and watched the graduation ceremony, Spunky Step-Daughter looked at me and said, "Being a step-mom now shows me what it was like for you. It's so hard. Now I understand what you were going through." Surprised by her words, I didn't know what to say. It was hard for me, but not because of Spunky Step-Daughter. Others made my trying to be a positive, loving, helpful role model to her nearly impossible. Her mom. Her dad. Her grandmother. These people constantly and conciously negated my position in her life. Each step I took to make Spunky Step-Daughter a part of our family, show her she is a part of our family, they took extra steps to make this not happen.

Now, this young woman who is only 25 seems so defeated, and I keep thinking what if? What if I had taken her? What if she had grown up with her siblings here, away from the conflict brought about by her mom and dad? I know thinking about all the what if's isn't going to change anything for her, but I still wonder.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Floating Around in Limbo

And another semester has come to an end.

Grades are in. Self-eval has been completed and sent to my boss. Just a few odds and ends, tidying up some paperwork matters remain. Nothing pressing. Ahhhhhh.

While I'm happy to have reached the end of the semester and am more than ready to launch into summer, I know for a few days I'll wander around in a daze, feeling like I don't know what to do. This happens nearly every May. After five months of being in overdrive then suddenly finding myself in neutral, the no demands on me throw me into a sort of limbo, as if I'm floating slowly and haphazardly through space. Usually I need a week to find my bearings.

To help myself get a grip more quickly this go-round, and to get some mileage in place before my "real" ride begins June 1, I committed myself to getting up early and going out for 25-30 miles each morning this week. Yesterday was Day 1, and I couldn't have asked for a nicer morning. Though it was on the cool side, the sun was shining, making for a very pleasant ride. This morning, Day 2, was not so pleasant. Rainy, windy, chilly. I very easily could have said, "Nope. Not going." Believe me, I wavered. But then I thought about why I'm riding this summer, and the notion that those with MS don't get a day off from pain, from spasms, from incontinence just because it happens to be raining was all I needed to get me out the door. Discomfort for me is temporary. Discomfort for those with MS is permanent.

Tomorrow, Day 3, is supposed to be warmer but even more windy than it is today. As is Day 4. Sigh. Time to dig deep and muster up the gumption to embrace my old training partner, El Viento. On the bright side, the calories burned on these rides means I get to eat. A lot. And for some reason, the one food I tend to crave after riding is french fries. Not quite sure why. I just go with it and enjoy.

Just thinking about being out, racking up miles and burning calories, is making me want to go out again today. I think I really could go for another slow 10 or 15 this evening.

Love reaching the end of the semester.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Braving the Bus Transfer

I was very daring today. I took two buses to get home instead of getting off at the transfer station then walking the mile from there to the house. Because I was so brave, I only had to walk three blocks instead of the mile, not that a mile walk is a horrible thing. It's not. In fact, I enjoy the walk very much. Yesterday, I got off at the transfer station, went to the used book store and bought two books, then went to a diner and had a burger while I read one of my new books. The walk home not only helped my digestive system, but it also gave me the opportunity to find a treasure on the curb. I lugged said treasure home and will make something for the living room out of it.

But I digress. Back to taking not one but TWO buses to get home.

From work to home, by bike, it's three miles, and I usually ride the three miles in 15 minutes. Half of the ride is trail, so I don't have to deal with traffic, and the other half is mostly residential streets with low traffic. The ride is almost always very pleasant. Unfortunately, the weather this week decided to do a U-turn and head back into winter time. Rainy. Cold. Windy. Cold. Just not pleasant to ride in to say the least.

So in the mornings, Hubby has been dropping me off as he heads to work, and I've been taking the bus home. Most often, the bus ride from work to the transfer station is 20 minutes. The walk home from the transfer station is another 20 minutes. The time doesn't really concern me, but I figured I could shave some minutes off if I transfer from bus one, the Green A,  to but two, the Lime I, and let bus two deposit me just three blocks away. Today, to see how much time I could save by not walking the mile home, I put my plan in motion.

The driver of the Green A today was a regular race car driver wannabe. While some of the drivers will wait a minute or two at the bus stop at work, this guy barely slowed down to let us all on. He began pulling away before two riders were even off the bus. They had to yell at him to stop and let them off. Then, at every stop along the way, he waited until the last minute to apply the brakes. I was trying to read some Hemingway, but all the swaying made keeping track of where I was impossible. I finally slipped the book into my bag and just looked out the window. When we arrived at the transfer station, bus two, the Lime I,  hadn't pulled in yet since Race Car Wannabe Green A driver was early. I checked my phone. Fifteen minutes from work to the transfer station.

A few minutes later, the Lime I pulled in. I climbed aboard, flashing my ID that allows me to ride free. Yeah. Gotta love free. And no sooner had I sat down than we were off. At the transfer station exit, I suddenly panicked, thinking, am I on the right bus? Please turn left. Please turn left. Whew. The bus turned left, taking me in the direction of my house. As we passed the McDonalds, the student apartments, and neared where I thought the bus was supposed to stop, another panic attack hit. Is he going to stop? Is he going to open the door? As the bus neared the four-way stop, and the children from the nearby elementary school were waved across by the crossing guard, I reached up and pulled the Stop Requested cable. The driver stopped and opened the door. With relief, I walked up the aisle and stepped off, saying thank you to the driver who told me to have a wonderful day.

The three blocks to home were easy peazy. I noticed the lilacs were done blooming, someone had put an old kitchen chair at the corner of Streets A and B, in the grass and dandelions that were nearly as tall as the seat of the chair (someone definitely needs to mow!), and strips of white paint had been painted at the end of the sidewalk, most likely marking sidewalks that need to be changed to accommodate individuals in wheelchairs. When I walked into the house, I glanced at the clock above the sink. From the transfer station to home: ten minutes. Overall time from work to home: 25 minutes.

Now that I have mastered taking two buses to get home, I'm stoked to try taking other buses around the city. I figure even if I do mess up and take the wrong bus, all I have to do is get off and try another, then maybe another, until I end up back where I started. Or, at the very least, just begin walking. I know my way home.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Reminders of Why I Teach

This week I've been conferencing with my English 102 students over their final papers. I love having these conferences as it's an opportunity for me to take time with each student, being able to sit back and enjoy the student's work followed by listening to the student explain the choices made for the papers. I learn so much from the students.

When I do these conferences, I try to compile some passages from various papers. Passages that speak to me, make me uncomfortable, fill me with sadness, or evoke joy. I try to keep these passages close by to remind myself of why I teach.

Here are a few from this semester I'd like to share:

--from a student paper in which the author explored her cousin being born with Maple Syrup Urine Disease and having to undergo a liver transplant. The liver came from a little girl who had died in a car accident. This is from a scene of Evan's third birthday where he had two cakes.

"But the next set of candles was not for Evan; it was for his organ donor. It was for the child who was never going to have another birthday, who was never going to have anymore candles. It was to celebrate her [the mother's] forever gratefulness for the child who gave Evan life."

--from a student paper in which the author explored her father's fight with oral cancer. Unfortunately, the cancer wasn't diagnosed quickly and the cancer was such that part of his jaw had to be removed, making eating nearly impossible.

"The day came where he was well enough to sit at the table with his family even though he couldn't eat, and he watched as the family cut the steaks on their plates, what used to be his favorite meal."

--from a student paper about prescription drug dependency/addition.

"Sitting beside Lola* was her daughter, little 10 year old Penny,* her hair tied up in a knot, clothes two sizes too small, and shoes that looked several years old. Lola was dressed in a light pink dress, heels that made her at least a foot taller and that matched her Coach Hand bag and her face covered in freshly applied make-up. Penny did not say a word. Each time her mother said the word “addiction” Penny lifted her stare from the floor and shot her mother with a look of disgust."

These next few excerpts come from student reflective essays in which they discuss their journey through the class, how they felt about themselves as writers at the beginning of the course, and how they feel about themselves now at the end of the course. Little gems.

" . . . but I guess feeling uncomfortable was the key. By feeling uncomfortable I had to learn how to master these skills and eventually feel comfortable."

"Writing this [a paper about her step-mom's bout with breast cancer] and going through my own situation [becoming homeless and trying to find a place to live] at the same time led me to deal with my problem with much more grace and positivity than I may have at another time in my life."

"By having this assignment, I have found some closure for my family's tragic loss. Although my topic was stressful [a cousin dying after being hit by a drunk driver], I found it being the right choice for me because I was able to develop a more meaningful piece of writing and hopefully I will be able to persuade others to become organ donors and even for them to just pay it forward . . .."

"Reflections can be easily described as the accurate, reflective picture in the mirror. When I look in the mirror as the semester comes to an end, not much has changed. Appearance does not change much over the time of a semester. The most important but unnoticeable changes come from the inside, which the mirror does not show."

"You need to be able to add emotion and constructive logic into your paper. You can't have both unless you use both your head and your heart."

"But now, I realize that finding confidence in not only myself, but also in my writing, is the key to success. It is okay to obsessively edit, it is okay to be nervous and freak out about writing something, and it is okay to hate it while you are working on it."

"When it comes to the “creativity” of creative nonfiction work, I now am convinced perfection is overrated.  Creativity, in essence, is imperfect.  It is unrealistic to expect any creative nonfiction piece to be flawless.  My new expectation of myself . . . is to be gracious to myself as a writer, for this is what creativity is all about.  Likewise, my goal is to continue writing . . .. This semester has strengthened that resolve, for these months of experiences in writing creative nonfiction changed me.  Composing creative nonfiction affected me deeply as a student and as an individual."

Sunday, May 4, 2014

While I Waited

This morning I awoke early, just after daybreak, and sleep just wasn't going to come back to me as I was too curious about the bees. I needed to check on them. When I did, all was quiet. No sound came from inside the hive. The image of floating goldfish came to mind. Surely I hadn't killed them all so quickly, I thought. Hubby came out and bent down to listen. He heard a scratching noise. I leaned in but heard nothing. Dismay began to well up inside me. I figured all I could do was wait. Wait for the sun to come up to warm the hive. Wait to see if the bees began humming. So I turned to other things, like . . .
  • planting some flowers in pots and in a pair of old rubber rain boots that had belonged to Funny Delightful Son when he was three or four years old. 
  • putting out my new angel statue, officially putting myself in the "old people who garden and buy silly statues to place here and there." 
  • getting on the road bike and going 10.5 miles, starting slowly since I haven't ridden since my surgery and thought it best to take it easy. 
  • showering.
  • trading the road bike for my commuter to ride over to the MS Walk where I joined 200+ others to walk a mile or two for all those living with MS (I elected to do the one mile walk just because).
  • stopping at the ice cream shop on the way home for a cookie dough ice cream cone (again, just because).
  • riding out to work to get things prepped for the upcoming week (this trip along with the trip to the MS Walk added 14 miles to my 10.5, so I ended the day with 24.5 miles).
When I returned home from work, I checked on the hive. I could hear the scratching inside, and I noticed the new jar of sugar water I put out this morning is low. The bees are fine.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Hiving the Bees

I woke up at the usual time this morning, 5:30ish, and though I didn't have to get up, I couldn't go back to sleep. The bees had arrived, and I had to go get them and bring them home to their new hive. Excitement along with trepidation propelled me out of bed to get ready for the trip.

While I went through the basic beekeeping course and have been reading beekeeping books since then, I still wondered if I could actually take a cage that seemed to contain upwards of a thousand bees and transfer them to the hive. I wondered if I could get the queen safely nestled between two of the frames where the bees could then eat through the sticky plug and allow her to enter into their new home. Hubby teases me about my not-so-successful attempts to have goldfish, saying he hopes the bees last a bit longer, and this makes me wonder if I will end up, sadly, killing an entire hive of bees. I certainly hope I don't.

(Hmmmmmm. I have no idea what happened here, but I had a paragraph about arriving at the Keeper of the Bees, having the Master Beekeeper mark my queen for me, a queen who escaped her cage almost as soon as the MB said he'd never had a queen escape, and me standing amidst bees flying and humming all around me. Standing there with so many bees all around was certainly surreal.)

After the queen was returned to her quarters, and it returned to the cage containing the bees to go in my hive, any stray bees clinging to the outside were gently brushed off. Then the cage was handed over to me. I could hear a low buzzing hum as I carried them to the truck. Once they were snug in the tub in the bed of the truck, we set off for home.

Once home, I set the bees next to the hive, put on my new elbow-length leather gloves and very stylish hat with netting, then removed the top of the hive to take out the middle frames. I sprayed the bees with sugar water, banged the cage against the ground like I'd been shown in class, removed the can of sugary food, then dumped the bees into the hive. Bees flew all around me, but I moved slowly. I saw one on my jeans, a couple on my gloves, and Hubby called to me (from the other side of the garden, ready to bolt inside if so much as one bee flew his way) that I had some on my back. I just made small, slow movements, and after ten minutes or so, most of the bees were inside the hive. I returned the middle frames carefully, being sure to not squish the bees crawling along the ledges. Once the frames were back in place, I picked up the queen in her own little quarters, pulled the cap off to expose the sticky plug, then wedged her plastic home between the frames. Within a couple of days, the sticky plug will be gone, eaten away by the bees, and the queen will be free to roam the hive.

After replacing the top of the hive, I stood back and watched. There's simply no way to get all the bees in the hive, so quite a few were hovering around me and the cage they'd come in. The time had come to let them be (ha!) for a couple of days, to acclimate to their new home. Or so I thought. A couple of hours later, as I sat on the back deck and looked over at the hive, I could tell far more bees were flying around than when I had put the top on it. Then I noticed the grass I'd used to stuff in the entrance hole had been removed, and bees were quickly leaving their new home. Thankfully, they were going right back to the can with the sugary food in it that had been inside the cage they'd arrived in. I garbed back up, took the lid off the hive so I could dump the bees from the can back inside. The second grass plug seems to be working much better, keeping the bees inside.

So now I wait a few days. Then I'll lift the lid off, check to make sure the queen is out of her holding cell, and hopefully see a honeycomb in the makings. As I wait, I'll be thinking positive thoughts that the bees will not go the way of the goldfish.