What a Dovetail Means to Me SOLSC 26

This was originally posted on http://www.yetthereismethod.net/

I’ve spent some time this weekend exploring what I need to get a newly acquired dovetail jig ready to use.  I want to make some boxes and think they’ll be better looking with that particular joint.  Fortunately, my dad had a jig he was willing to give me, and I just need a few accessories.
As I’ve been working on getting the jig ready to go, I’ve had some time to reflect on just how much doing so means to me.

I know that not everyone knows what a dovetail joint is.  I do, and I’ve got my dad to thank for that.  Dovetails are what you sometimes see when you open a drawer and look at its corners.  Those trapezoidal shapes are called dovetails.  They’re typically machined these days, but still hold a place in our collective consciousness as a mark of hand-work quality.  I spent a lot of my formative years, as well as lots of time since, in my father’s woodshop.  While I don’t remember him cutting any dovetails back then, it was something I knew about.

I know that not everyone knows how to use the tools necessary to cut a dovetail joint, either by hand or with machinery.  I do, and I’ve got my dad to thank for that.  Tools were a part of my childhood as well as the years since.  I recently got to spend time with some of my childhood friends: a twist drill that has long since been replaced with power tools, a coping saw that has seen countless blades through the years, and even a “spare parts” bin with sawdust in the bottom that comes close to matching my 52 years.

I know that not everyone knows how to make a simple wooden box, much less one with dovetailed corners.  I do, and I’ve got my dad to thank for that.  I’ve watched him for years, turning plywood and other lumber into furniture and home improvements.  As the years went by, his skills have improved and I’ve worked to keep pace.  As with age, I don’t know if I’ll ever truly catch up.  We got to spend some time in the shop together last week, and I caught myself standing there watching him work.  I know we’ll both someday close our shop doors for good, so I relish every moment we can make sawdust together.

I’m a maker because he’s a maker.  I’ve got my dad to thank for that.

Degrees of Cathie SOLSC 25

This was originally posted on http://www.yetthereismethod.net/

I have absolutely no idea how many degrees of separation there are between Kevin Bacon and me. No idea whatsoever. That said, I do have a positive recollection of him in Footloose all those years ago. Truth be told, that positivity could be because of my date (high school, tons of nervous energy, 35 year-old memory, blurred, blurred, blurred), but I can’t be sure.

Today is a bumming around town kind of day. A few errands, a cup of coffee with my favorite mermaid, and–and this is a treat–a stop by Lowe Mill. I live near Huntsville, Alabama, which is home to what is reportedly the largest community of artists in the United States. The building itself is a renovated textile mill (yes, I do live way down yonder in the land of cotton) that has been divided into a hundred or so studios for artists of all stripes. Potters, painters, jewelers, printers, carvers, stained glassers, weavers, cabinet makers: It’s an incredible place. I get here when I can. Given that I live a whopping 25 minutes away, the regularity of my trips is depressingly low, but I love it when I can get here (I’m writing this, by the way, in a non-Seattle-based coffee shop located on the second floor of the Mill, fueled by what is probably more caffeine than my cardiologist would recommend).

Tim, what does this have to do with Kevin Bacon? Nothing, I don’t even know the guy.

I do, however, know Cathie. Cathie is a wonderful person who is probably the most understated, laid-back, ball of energy that I’ve ever known. She wears a number of hats with the local Land Trust, each of which takes her out into the community spreading the gospel of conservation and stewardship. Cathie knows people. Not in the I’m-important-and-I-can-show-you-by-dropping-names kind of way, but in a good way. The kind of way that even has her knowing people like me.

Shortly after walking into the Mill, I headed up to the second floor after a quick lap around the first. I was plodding up the stairs (dimly lit, concrete steps, smells vaguely of urine–no idea why) when I became aware of someone on the landing above me. Cathie. Did I mention that she’s connected with the art community as well? Just another reason to love her.

She wasn’t alone, and quickly introduced me to her friend Martha. After a flurry of conversation–a quick flurry, but a flurry nonetheless…did I mention the smell?–in which Martha and I learned we had more in common than just Cathie, I headed back down the steps to Cathie’s studio. Okay, it’s technically her daughter’s studio, but that has no relevance to this story…kind of like Kevin Bacon.

Degrees of Cathie. As I mentioned earlier, friends of Cathie so often find that they have more than a little in common with each other, and I’m always the better for meeting one of them. Martha, it turns out, was once a third grade teacher, just like me. She’s also a writer, albeit one significantly more recognizable and published than me. She loves nature–hey, just like me. She even has a husband named Tim, just like me! Actually, I don’t have a husband named Tim, but my wife does. Good people, she is, to use the cliche.

After a half hour of lively conversation filled with wonderfully scenic rabbit trails, I gave my regards and left them to whatever business brought them here today. It’s a bumming around kind of day for me, but it’s turned out to be one of the best kind. Spring weather, coffee (just one more cup, please), a trip to the Mill, and thirty minutes of good conversation with friends old and new. All things considered, I couldn’t ask for more.


By the way, if you have no idea what I was talking about in my first paragraph, look up “Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” Fascinating, in a pop culture sort of way.

That’s Right…I Can Draw SOLSC 24

This was originally posted on http://www.yetthereismethod.net/

Being a teacher of third graders has its challenges, but there are a few things that come pretty easy to me.  Playing basketball with my students, for example.  Being 6’ 4” tall allows me to dominate on a court with an 8’ hoop.  Not many students beat me with multiplication flash cards, either, and I’m usually a lock at checkers.  Old age and treachery always overcomes youth and skill, as the saying goes. (Not that I’m very treacherous…)

Today, though, we didn’t play basketball or work with multiplication cards.  We did, however, have our Den Days.  Our school has a monthly event in which every student participates in a “den.”  (We’re the Endeavor Cubs, so we don’t do clubs, we do dens.)  Each faculty member has 15 or so students for an hour, and we get to share something we enjoy with the kids.  The dens let students participate in everything from board games to singing to yoga to crochet to drawing–that’s what I lead.

As with basketball, I’m really not particularly skilled at drawing, but I have the basics down.  That allows me to deal in a currency that my students appreciate: Pokemon character drawings.   Today, I learned about Karrablast and Glaceon.  Certainly you know who they are, right?  Yea, me either.  I used them today, though, to teach a few art basics and develop some relationships.  That’s a win, even if it’s a little treacherous, in my book.

Strange, but true, fact: My niece is employed as a graphic artist and works for a Pokemon licensee.  She really does draw them for a living. Pretty cool.

Dinner Date SOLSC 23

This was originally posted on http://www.yetthereismethod.net/

My daughter saved me–and you, my reader–from having to write about school.  Thank goodness.  Today was one of those days where it wasn’t a bad day, but wasn’t necessarily a good day, either.  For this teacher of third graders, it was a busy day. Busy, as in, “Wow.”

But, I’m not going to write about that.  Nothing to see there, citizens, just move along.

Thursday night, my youngest daughter, Kim, normally comes over to our house for dinner.  ‘Tis tax season, though, so I’m sorta baching it (my wife’s an accountant).  I’m perfectly capable, mind you, of making a meal, but sometimes it’s nice to go out as well.  (Quick aside: No, I didn’t know how to spell “baching,” so I Googled it.  Most definitions were a variation on “living as a bachelor while one’s wife is away,” but the Urban Dictionary says it leans toward infidelity.  Darn.  Another perfectly good word headed down the drain of modern usage, but I’m still going to use it today.)

We decided on a nearby Mexican restaurant that she enjoys.  I’ve only been there once, but it’s been quite a while.  It was good, and after April 18th I’m pretty sure I’ll be headed back with my wife.  (Another quick aside: Tax day is April 18th this year.  Why not the 15th, you might wonder? (Then again, you might not.)  The 15th is on a Saturday this year, and Emancipation Day is celebrated in Washington D.C. on April 16th.  That means it’s observed on Monday, the 17th–a holiday for the IRS.  Hence, Tax Day is on the 18th.  Go ahead, relax–you’ve got plenty of time.)

The food, as I mentioned, was good, and the conversation was better.  My daughter was probably the better conversationalist today (see my first paragraph), but I think I did okay.  It’s nice to spend time with my girls.  They’re both closer to thirty than twenty, now, and I’m more than proud of the women they’ve become.  My other daughter, Karin, doesn’t get out much without her two daughters in tow, but I love the time we spend together as well (I need to write about the granddaughters–maybe a later slice).

As I’m wrapping this up, a closing pun occurred to me: Tonight was nachos with two asides.

I know, I know. Did I mention today was a little crazy?

Your Turtle is Loose SOLSC 22

This was originally posted on http://www.yetthereismethod.net/

If you’ve been a teacher for more than a few days, you’ve been here: You’re in the middle of a lesson, you’ve got decent student engagement, you’re feeling pretty good about what’s going on, and…

The phone rings.  Really?  I mean, really?  Yep, just yesterday.

Caller ID showed that it was the front desk, and I answered with what I hope was a friendly, “Hello.”

“Mr. Gels?” our receptionist asked.

I’m not trying to be snarky here, honestly I’m not, but I always get a kick out of it when people ask, “Mr. Gels?” when I answer the phone.  I’m the only male teacher in the school, and no one’s ever accused me of having an feminine voice. “Mr. Gels?” Of course I’m Mr. Gels.  But I digress.

So I’ve already got that goofy grin on my face as our conversation starts (I really do love our receptionist–she’s great, and there’s a chance she might read this some day).

She continued, “Your turtle is loose.”

Awkward pause as now I am looking for a snarky response as well as wondering just what Tina might be talking about.

“One of the coaches told me that there’s a turtle by the fifth grade door.  Her class saw it when they came in from PE.  She asked me to let you know,” she elaborated with a smile in her voice.

Ah.  The outdoor classroom (I’m the coordinator).  The turtle from the pond.  Got it.  I love my job, I really do.

After saying that I’d go out and take a look as soon as I was able to, I got back to my my lesson.

And stopped again when the coach herself came in to tell me that my turtle was loose.

And stopped again and again when two different fifth graders came in to tell me that my turtle was loose.  Sigh.

So, the turtle.  Our pond is a small body of water that a fantastic volunteer with a backhoe dug for us seven or eight years ago.  It’s home to an assortment of fish (that we put there), snakes (!), insects, and random turtles that appear every now and again.  I say that about the turtles because it’s virtually impossible to imagine that they got there on their own.  In “the wild,” aquatic turtles of our sort don’t travel miles from the nearest body of water in search of our 10 square yards of water surface.  More than once, I’ve had students or parents let me know that they donated a pet or an animal they rescued from the road…hence, “appear.”

While I guess you can tag me with responsibility for the pond, the same can’t really be said for the turtles.  They live there, but they’re not technically captive.  There’s a fence, but it’s not turtle proof (it does, however, satisfy the legal requirement for our pond).  Why does an aquatic turtle suddenly take up wandering?  With my grin back, I’ll just say that it’s the season for reptile love and leave it at that.

Anyway, during lunch I went out, found the turtle and returned it to the pond.  Has its wanderlust been satisfied?  I don’t know, but if you see it roaming around, just let me know.  I’ll go out and get it–that’s what I do.

Quick springtime note: If you feel the need to rescue a turtle from the road (and I’ve done it many times), please be safe as you do so.  Help the turtle get to where it’s going–don’t take it back to where it was.  Its instinct is telling it where to go and it will just try again.  Finally, turtles have a home range and suffer if taken from it.  Please don’t bring it to me.  Thanks!

Spring, Apparently, is Here SOLSC 21

This was originally posted on http://www.yetthereismethod.net/

Spring, or, as we call it in Alabama, the three hours between winter and summer, appears to be in the air.  The air is warm (80 degrees yesterday!), the birds are nesting, the trees are starting to get leaves, and our daffodils have already faded.

As I headed out to the playground today with my third graders, it was wonderful not to have to walk over to my cabinet to get my coat.  Nope, spring is here.  There’s also a feeling of excitement around the school because spring is, of course, followed by summer.  And summer means summer break.  (Out of principle, I call it a “summer break;” if I was getting paid, it would be a vacation…minor distinction.)  Honestly, I’m not counting days.  Yet.

Of course, there’s another side to the end of the year, and that’s the feeling of oh-my-gosh-how-am-I-going-to-fit-all-of-this-in?  Just as the air warms, the birds nest, and the trees leaf, I’m sure we’ll get everything done.  No worries.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go cut my grass.  Spring is here!

Thank You, Amy SOLSC 20

This was originally posted on http://www.yetthereismethod.net/

Just a few thoughts about Amy helping to make me late for work this morning.

First of all, this isn’t the first time that “Amy” and “late” have been used in the same sentence.  My least favorite sentence, albeit the most relevant, is “I was late to the Amy party.”  I’ve had an awareness of the works of Amy Krouse Rosenthal for years now, but was always distracted by something else and never really explored her stuff.  My loss, but better late than never, I suppose.  The lost years…the lost years.

“Amy.”  From what I’ve read on other people’s blogs and websites, I’m to use her first name like “Cher” or “Bono,” as if the last name isn’t really necessary.  How cool is that?  (“AKR” and “akr” are now initials I recognize as well.)

Her loss, brought to most of the country’s attention through her viral essay, “You May Want to Marry My Husband,” is a source of increasing sadness as I get to know her better through her works.  I, along with the rest of the world, will move on, but as with all losses of this sort, it’s not easy.

So, I was late (but not too late) to work this morning.  I know it’s really my fault, but Amy’s book Textbook certainly played a part.  Wow, what a great work.

I think I might come to rely on what I call the Textbook relationship test.  It starts with me giving you a copy of Amy’s final book to read.  If you find yourself also late for work because you stood in your kitchen reading just one more page until there wasn’t one more page, I’m fairly certain you are the sort of person I can call a friend.  She probably would too.

Thank you, Amy.

Has Anyone Seen My Routine SOLSC 19

This was originally posted on http://www.yetthereismethod.net/

Would everyone please check your pockets?  I’ve lost my routine.  I know it was here just a while back, so I’d appreciate you helping me find it.  Thanks!

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m sitting in my classroom writing this slice instead of getting ready for the upcoming week.  Oh, I’ll have time for that later–right now, I’m just trying to reabsorb the classroom groove.

I have about 16 hours of spring break left (and I’m spending it in the classroom–doh!).  My students will come in tomorrow, excited to see their friends and compare notes on how they spent the last week.  We teachers will have made it in a bit before they do, but we’ll do the same comparing-notes exercise.  Some of us made it to the beach (I live in north Alabama), some, like me, actually travelled north, and some–the lucky ones, I sometimes think–just stayed home and relaxed.  All of us are keenly aware that there are only 10 weeks left in the school year, but the excitement of the home stretch is tempered by the knowledge of all we’ve still got left to do.

I’ll be glad to have my routine back.  I look forward to each of my students coming through the door (even that one or two), and I’m eager to hear their stories as well.  I’m ready to dive back into our units of study, hopeful that they haven’t forgotten too much.  The thrill might wear off before the announcements are over, but for now I’m ready to go.

I know my routine is here somewhere.  Maybe it rolled under the desk…I thought I heard something fall a few minutes ago.

Questions I Would Ask SOLSC 18

This was originally posted on http://www.yetthereismethod.net/

Interstate 65, southbound through Kentucky and Tennessee

Questions I would ask, if I could bear the pain

To the last family that lived in the dilapidated house just off the right of way, what was it like before the interstate came through? Was it quiet before the constant sound of engines and the smell of exhaust?  Where are your descendants now, and do they know your stories of the homestead?

To the gentleman driving the truck with all of those bumper stickers, do you really want to express those sentiments toward that politician, and if so, what motivates you? What have you lost? What anguish have you suffered, and can it ever be made right?

To the officers who served with the trooper for whom that stretch of highway is named, what was he like? Could he crack a joke to ease the ever-present tension? Was he an inspiration to those around him? Do you still keep in touch with the family, and can the grief brought by that kind of loss ever heal?

To the farmer walking the hillside field eroded from the heavy rains that followed so many weeks of drought, how do you recover from a loss that’s measured in acres?  Will crops grow in soil that won’t be revitalized in your lifetime? Can a chemical spray truly negate the damage?

To the family who maintains the roadside monument with yet another new teddy bear and the fresh pink balloons tugging against their moorings in the afternoon breeze, how do you drive this stretch of road, feeling the heartache that can’t ever go away?

To the vultures circling overhead in the thermals rising off that much asphalt, do you, one of the only species of birds with a sense of smell, find yourselves drawn to the essence of loss below you, or are you simply riding the winds of a beautiful day, unknowing and unaffected?

Questions I would ask, if I could bear the pain.

Wild Kingdom SOLSC 17

This was originally posted on http://www.yetthereismethod.net/

In the community of naturalists and environmentalists, there’s pretty much so always been an active discussion about the merits of backyard bird feeders.  This might come as a surprise to some of my readers, but it’s true (really!).

Bird feeders (the pole-mounted kind as well as the people) provide important food to local wildlife, some say.  Others say that putting out food detracts from a wild animal’s ability to forage for itself.  Some say there’s no harm–the impact isn’t that great–while others say any amount of intervention is significant.

The argument is totally lost on my mother.  It just doesn’t matter.  She’s a bird feeder (not the pole-mounted variety).

Since moving from my childhood home, my parents have always had a birdfeeder, or two, or three, and maybe a squirrel feeder in their back yard, just outside of their kitchen window.   Oddly enough, there are rarely birds, though.  Squirrels?  Now that’s a different story.  

The occasional bird comes through, but the most common consumer of bird seed outside of my parents’ kitchen window is the eastern grey squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis.  (At this time, the reader is supposed to say to him or herself, “Ooh, he took the time to look up the genus and species.”  If you haven’t done that yet, go ahead…I’ll wait.)

Grey squirrels.  Lots of them.  They come In two varieties: Eating, and looking-put-out-because-the-feeder-is-empty.  I’ve spent more than a little time watching them over the past few days (road trip!) and enjoy them a lot. I walked outside yesterday and actually had one of them give me a healthy dose of what for, but other than that, it’s been a positive experience for all parties involved.

My parents’ suburban nature sanctuary attracts other animals as well: Chipmunks that have gotten out of bed way too early with the flirtation of spring-like weather, a growing family of rabbits that resides under the shed, possums that wander through late at night, and a monster-sized raccoon that comes from who-knows-where. In addition, there’s a red-tailed hawk that is fond of sitting in the pine tree in the adjacent yard.  (My mom has kept a few pinecones just inside the door in case she ever has to throw them in defense of the smaller mammals, but I’m not sure she’s ever actually pulled that one off).

It’s a regular wild kingdom out there.

The for-or-against argument?  Sure, it’s there.  For now, though, I think I’ll pour a cup of coffee, take a seat, and watch the show.

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