Libraries

Libraries.  I love ‘em.

There’s just so much in there, and almost all of it appeals to me.  While I’m not intrigued by, say, Home and Family Management in the 640s, or French and Related Literatures in the 840s, I’m definitely interested in Drawing and Decorative Arts in the 740s right between the other two. 

That doesn’t mean, though, that I won’t wander through those other two areas as I pace the stacks.

I’ll browse.  I’ll meander.  I’ll get a crick in my neck because I’ve been walking with my right ear toward the ground through all those shelves.  I’ll impulsively move from a section in the main library to the corresponding section in the “youth” area.  I’ll stand for a few minutes, trying desperately to remember what it was I just had to look up.

Music.  There’s plenty of it, even though nearly all of it is available through a few clicks on my phone.

Don’t forget video.  

And the children’s books, standing upright, ready to be flipped through in their wooden bins.

I love all of it, and I miss it dearly.

I was working out of a school library today (an elementary school, so walking through the French and Related Literatures (840) section doesn’t take long), and as I set my book bag down I heard the librarian ask one of the teachers not to touch the books on the shelves because she didn’t have time to wipe them down again after the teacher left.

I don’t fault the librarian; I worked in the same room with her for most of the day and she rarely stopped moving.  I don’t fault anyone, really.  

That little booger, the Covid-19 virus, is only 60 nanometers in diameter, and it’s messing some stuff up.

Someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, I hope the only place it’s found is Medical and Health (640).  You can bet I’ll walk right past it.

Big Rig

If, a few months ago, you asked me what came to mind when I heard the words, “Big Rig,” I probably would have said something about a semi-tractor/trailer combo.  Maybe I’d have thought about oil drilling, or even fishing tackle.  That last one’s kind of strange, but it goes back to my youth when I had the opportunity to go fishing in Canada.  What kind of tackle should one take?  Who knew, but it had to be big!

Now, though?  What comes to mind when I hear “Big Rig” mentioned?

A chicken.

Yep.  A chicken.

Well, and my granddaughter.

My granddaughter is learning to read, and with the current school situation I have been helping with that endeavor.  I didn’t have a lot of experience with beginning readers, since I’ve been a third-grade teacher most of my career, but I knew where to start: Talk to a kindergarten teacher.  And that’s what I did.  

After some talking and a little bit of brushing up on the basics, I came home with a handful of simple readers to use with my teaching.  I love books that are written with beginning-reader text, but–in my limited experience–a lot of them can be kind of boring.  Not the set I was able to borrow, though.  The text is good, but the pictures are what really make them great.  The series is set in a town populated by trucks and other vehicles.  Race cars, construction equipment like dozers, and even a tow truck named, yes, Big Rig.

My granddaughter really likes Big Rig.  

A few weeks after we started with that series, my wife decided it was time to start with a new flock of chicks.  Early one morning they found a home in a container under a heat lamp in our garage, and that afternoon our granddaughters came to visit them.  We’ve never been one for naming our chickens, but, well, that’s changed.  Again: Granddaughters.

So, we’ve got a Yeti, since it has “furry feet,” and we’ve got Dot because of a dark patch below her eye.  Plain Jane looks like Dot, but doesn’t have the dark patch.  The logic behind the naming process is strange, but it makes sense if you’re my wife or one of my granddaughters, especially the oldest one.

What else came out of the naming process?  

Yes, indeed, we have a feathered gal by the name of “Big Rig.”  

I suppose it’s okay.  She’s not going to answer to it anyway.

Deadlines and Trails to Hit

There are people, I’m told, who don’t seem to know the meaning of a deadline.  In the good way, that is: If they’ve got a project due next week, well, it’s already done.  Those people are on the ball.  I like to think I’m on the ball, too, but certainly not in the way they are!

On occasion, I’ve struggled with procrastination, but when I step back and think about it, it’s possible I’m overcommitted and don’t really give myself the chance to get ahead.  I don’t know.  I’ll have to think about that one some more.  Later.

I’m involved with our local Land Trust’s education committee, and have been for about 10 years or so.  Until recently, we have, of course, conducted all of our events in person, usually on one of our trails here in north Alabama.  Most of our events are youth-oriented, and the group size is typically between 10 and 25, and I love it.  With the current situation, though, we’ve had to adjust the way we do business.  Just, I suppose, like everyone else.  

Enter the virtual education event.  To be clear, the hikes aren’t virtual—the teaching part is.  Families, equipped with materials we prepare, go out with their kids and experience the preserves with a guide who teaches from some sort of mobile device.  In some ways, it’s better than a group event because the outdoors part can be done when it’s convenient for the family.  In other ways, though, it’s not quite the same.  Especially not for the leader.

To get back to deadlines, yesterday was the day I was supposed to submit the material for my virtual trail event.  Not to be anticlimactic, but I made the deadline.  I almost always do.  To be clear, though, I wasn’t the week-ahead guy; it was dark when I hit send, but still well before bedtime!  

When I think about it, I’m kind of blown away by what we can do nowadays with technology and teaching.  My wife and I went out and walked the trail a few days ago.  I took a notebook and a GPS unit (I know I can use my phone, but darn it, I paid for that GPS 15 years ago and it still works!) as well as my camera, er, I mean my phone.  I jotted down some notes, took some pictures and videos, and started to make a plan.

During a few hours over the long Labor Day weekend, I wrote up the activity in a shareable document, catalogued my photos, edited and published a couple of short videos, and gathered a few additional online resources I thought would help my eventual participants.  I linked everything in the doc, and hit send with enough evening left to spend some time sitting and talking before bed.

I really miss the face-to-face aspect of our trail events, but I’m happy thinking about the families who will—virtually, anyway—walk my trail over the next few months.  For now, that will have to do.

Always Learning!

Note to self: This is, indeed, a slice of life, but as I was writing it I found myself surprised by its tone.  Interesting.

Learning and encouragement, I think, oftentimes go hand in hand.  Learning isn’t always easy, and it’s nice to have an encouraging voice in your ear as you work toward understanding something new.

Recently, I’ve had a few experiences that have sort of refined my understanding of how those two activities–learning and encouragement–go together.

I have, for most of my adult life, been an avid user of technology.  In my early professional life, computers and automation were just starting to make inroads into the military maintenance units of which I was a member, and I sort of grew up with them.  As new technologies emerged (Windows 3.1 was pretty awesome), I had the opportunity to learn as I used them to do a few different jobs.  The nineties turned into the two thousands, and the world of early blogging and wikis turned into social media and other more-user-friendly and intuitive technology tools. 

Nowadays, I have the opportunity to help other teachers take advantage of some of the new tools we have available to us.  Sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes it’s not.  Given the current events, sometimes the process is leisurely, and sometimes it’s sink or swim, where sinking isn’t an option.

Over the last few days, I’ve been working with a teacher I’ve known for several years, helping her learn to shoot and edit screencast videos.  The process isn’t too difficult, but her expectations for herself are high and she’s quickly taken things to a pretty decent production level. 

When she first started, I found myself trying to be encouraging as she worked with this new-to-her set of tools.  (“Really, your voice sounds fine!”) As time passed and her level of proficiency grew, I could sense that my need to encourage her was diminishing.  She was finding success with her work, and that success became a source of encouragement beyond anything I could say.  At a certain point, verbal encouragement wouldn’t just be unnecessary–I think it would start to sound patronizing.  She is doing well, and she knows it.

In an interesting sequence of events just today, I left the teaching situation of my friend’s classroom, got in my car, and headed to our district’s tech services department where I spent an hour or so learning some of the basics of mobile device management (MDM) systems.  I was sort of familiar with the process, but there was quite a bit of new material and I had to work to make sure I had the gist of what was happening.  The material wasn’t totally new to me, but it was challenging, and as I was learning alongside another colleague our “teacher” assumed we were rolling along with her, and the time went well.

On my drive home, I thought about the “tech” events of the last few days.  Over the days I spent teaching, my need to encourage diminished and my learner’s success became its own motivator.  During my own learning experience, verbal encouragement was neither expected nor given.  Had it been, it would have seemed awkward at best.  If it crossed anyone’s mind, it was mine alone as I celebrated my own learning while figuring out how to apply my newly acquired abilities.  

As I’ve read over this slice, I realize that I haven’t necessarily learned anything new, but it was cool to have recognized what I have about the last few days.  I’m not sure how this will translate to teaching elementary-age children, but I’m happy to have re-experienced this insight!

Flashlight

Wondering if I closed the gate earlier this evening
I make my way into the back yard
flashlight in hand, and find it open.

Closing it, reassured the fence will keep the dog in 
and the rest of the world out 
I slowly make my way back to the house.

On a whim, I play my beam along the fence line.  
Two rabbits freeze
unaware their eyes are glowing in the light.

Something else scurries through the chainlink 
just as the darkness of its space is broken
and I hear yet another as it moves through the garden.

Once indoors, assured the walls will keep me in 
and the rest of the world out
I close the door behind me.

Change is a Funny Thing

Change, in so many ways, is hard.  While I don’t usually go outside of my personal life for these narratives, the events of 2020 (actually, just five or six months of it) loom large over everything that happens nowadays.  

Six months ago I was in and out of classrooms all over my district, helping teachers and teaching students a variety of science topics, mostly computer programming.  Now I’m walking through those same schools, but the classrooms are empty of students and most doors are closed, with signs taped to them admonishing me, “Do not Disturb, Virtual Meeting in Progress,” or some variation on the theme.

Six months ago my family and I ate in restaurants without thinking about it, but now an outing along those lines is an exercise in logistics, largely passed over in favor of just eating at home.  Just stopping by a fast food joint for an ice cream cone was a normal event, and now it’s a calculated risk.

Back in the days before, we saw friends more often, we visited family without a thought, and we popped in and out of our local businesses with a degree of regularity.  Need something?  We’d just run out and get it, but not now.

Change, in so many ways, is hard, but sometimes it’s a little bit funny, too. 

First off, I have to admit I’m someone who doesn’t always do well with a break in my routine.  I’m someone who goes out of his way to avoid such things, when I can.  I might even be someone who stays in a harder situation when an easier one involves, gulp, doing something differently.  I am, to use the cliche, a creature of habit.

So, about that funny example of change I mentioned.

Way back in 1982, I graduated high school and a few months later I reported to basic training as a recruit of the United States Marine Corps.  It was 1982, so my hair was a little long, but I joined the Corps, and in the time it took for a pair of clippers to be dragged across my dome, it suddenly wasn’t.  My hair was short; it was really short. 

After basic training I was allowed to grow it out a bit, but until I retired from the military in 2004, my hair stayed “within regs.”  Nearly 22 years is enough time, research shows, to establish a habit, and that’s what I did.  My hair? Short.

Then came the pandemic, and suddenly the idea of going to a barber shop (sorry, stylist) lost its appeal.  Within a few weeks, my hair was tickling the tops of my ears, and a few weeks after that it was starting to lie over them.  Weeks turned into months, and my hair, alone with me in my house and unseen by others, continued to grow.  After three or four months, it was at a length unseen in some 35 years.  

And I liked it.  Dad joke: It grew on me.

More importantly, my wife liked it.

And so, after a backyard trim by a neighbor who’s a stylist, I was ready to reenter my academic world.  (True story: After several years as a hairstylist, my neighbor’s actually working as a dog groomer right now.  I had my hair cut by a dog groomer.  I love it.)

As it turns out, I’m not the only one for whom change comes hard.  Just ask some of my co-workers.  “Tim, is that you?”

Friendship

There is, amongst men today
a commonplace superficiality 
celebrated with getting together for a game
or enjoying a few cold ones before heading home.
And it is good, in a commonplace way.

But friendship, real friendship between men
is a rare occurrence.
A shared set of values
common ground deeper than a few inches of topsoil
and the recognition of a kindred spirit

Finding all of those at once is indeed a rarity
and is of lasting value.

Colors

In many ways, probably too many to count, I’m a conservative person.  Okay, given the times, I suppose I should clarify that I’m not politically conservative, at least not as much as I once was.  Depending on the day and the situation, I’m a right- or left-leaning moderate.  Mostly left, lately.  You know, this slice of life has absolutely nothing to do with politics, yet there it is: I felt the need to clarify my usage of a word.  These are strange days we’re living in, and I’m not sure I like all aspects of them.

So, back to me being a conservative person.  Let’s go with the “slow to change/cautious about change” meaning of the word.

Recently, I built some stairs coming off of our side porch leading down into the back yard.  There’s nothing particularly special about the stairs, other than the amount of planning time that went into them. By some estimates, some six or seven years went into the process.

Anyway, the steps are done.  It’s been a few weeks, so they’re almost ready to paint (pressure treated lumber needs time to thoroughly dry).  

Normally, I’d be looking at a white paint.  Not “white,” but one of the “off whites” that one typically sees on a set of steps.  In lieu of white, I might just leave them natural.  I like natural wood, and “natural” is what one goes with when what they really want is an “I didn’t have to paint” color.

Anyway, let’s back up a few weeks.  I’d just finished the steps, but knew I didn’t have to worry about painting them for a while.  The treatment in the  lumber wasn’t dry, and even if it was, I live in Alabama.  You don’t paint outside during an Alabama summer unless you want to wait until an Alabama fall for it to no longer be sticky.

I was out and about that day, and found myself walking into a local business that had a small picket fence around some mechanical thingy just outside the door. 

The fence was blue.

It wasn’t a dark blue, nor was it a robin’s egg or sky blue.  I don’t know what the painter called it, but it was a shade typically seen in a “beach” palette of colors. 

Not a coral, not a turquoise, and definitely–most definitely–not me. No, it wasn’t.

But that color stuck with me.  

And it stuck with me, over the weeks since I built those steps.

That color is not me, or is it?  The rest of the woodwork on my house: White.  Other projects I’ve built: Subdued Earth tones, including (of course) “natural.”

Yet, that color stuck with me.

At the local big box home center, it’s called “Cool Rain.”  I’m not sure I can believe it, but I’ve got a quart.  I’ll let you know how it comes out.