Wednesday, April 30, 2008

the humbling nature of nature

It would appear that I jumped the gun on spring planting. Went out this morning to discover a hard frost on everything, including my new tomato plants. By afternoon, they were black withered lumps.

I should have checked the average last freeze date -- easy to find on-line now that I bother to look. It's between May 1 and May 15 in this area of Kentucky!!

So its back to nursery for more plants in a day or two. This time I think I'll patronize my favorite local greenhouse/fruit stand "The Golden Apple" which appear to have opened for the season this week.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

wonder drug

Prednisone is a miracle drug. So of course it has lots of nasty side effects. But taking it in the short run (for bronchitis and asthma this time) not only does much to ameliorate the breathing problems, but also gives me a few days of tremendous energy.

I've done more housework in the past six days than in the previous six weeks (maybe even six months)! Cleaned, prepared and flea bombed the bedroom, and then washed all the sheets, towels, curtains, from that room. Purchased some nice vinyl tiles and covered most of the dreadful places where the old sheet vinyl had torn up and exposed the base flooring. Used my new hacksaw to cut up the nasty, old, broken plastic garbage cans (whose lids have long since blown away), and replaced them with new metal cans, whose lids I have attached with chains. [So there garbage workers!] Vacuumed, dusted, mopped and scrubbed, much of the house. Hauled out recycling, and trash. Put together a new lamp for the living room. Kept on top of the regular dishes, laundry, and animal care duties as well.

All that housework and I still did more grading, and class work in a few days than I normally do. Tomorrow is the last day of the medication. So I figure it will be back to my usual lethargy by weeks end. Oh well.

are my thumbs green?

Having been liberated from the dreaded Virtual Learning Initiative, I am contemplating all types of projects. First on the list -- some gardening.

The quality of our soil (non-existent) and the condition of my joints (not so hot) rule out simply plowing the earth to create a garden. So I am opting for container gardening. I grew cherry tomatoes a couple of years ago in barrels and they did well. This year I'm going for a variety of larger types.

Got some nice barrels from Lowe's and some bags of garden soil. The containers have to be situated outside the fenced in part of the yard, otherwise Rosie the dog will eat them (tomatoes, plants, stakes, and the wooden barrels themselves!!). John supervised the placement to insure that he can run the mower around them.

We're having a day or two of cooler weather -- dogwood winter say the neighbors -- so transferring the tomato plants will wait for a day or two until its a little warmer. Then I'll get my hands dirty.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A sense of peace descends

This week I was able to let go of an obligation, a burden, that had turned my life inside out for the past six months.

In November I wrote here about agreeing to tackle the modularization of introductory sociology for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System's Virtual Learning Initiative (KCTCS VLI -- don't you just love alphabet soup). During those six months I have put in at least 120 hours (John says he thinks its more), in developing proposals, attending meetings, leading meetings, writing and responding to e-mails. Not only did I get involved with the actual VLI project, but I was appointed to the system social interaction curriculum committee that had to approve the basic structure of any course to be modularized.

I made a strategic error -- I showed up for the first meeting of the curriculum committee very prepared, with handouts for everyone. I was immediately elected chair of the committee.
Even when I was not actively working on the project I was working on it, thinking about how to accomplish the various steps of the process. Then there was also the time I spent worrying (and having nightmares) about it as well.

From the beginning it was clear that the sociologists in the system had deep concerns about the plan to fractionalize sociology and about the VLI as a whole. I wrote about some of those concerns in Sociological Stew . I had a very difficult position to maintain. On one hand I was the leader of the VLI project to modularize introductory sociology, and had developed and presented the proposals to the committee. As the proposer, I had a responsibility to make the very best case I knew how, to persuade people to view this project as viable and reasonable. On the other hand, I was chair of the committee with an equal commitment to insuring that ever sociologist in the system had an opportunity to be involved, to express their concerns, and have a say in the decision-making.

As the discussion emerged, via face-to-face meetings, phone conferences, phone calls, and more than 600 e-mails, more and more negative views of VLI and modularization emerged. Finally this last week it came down to a vote, would the curriculum committee approve this project or vote it down. All though not all the votes are in yet, a majority of the schools have reported back, and all so far have overwhelmingly said "no" -- this is not a project they think should go forward.

Even if I did have some doubts from the beginning, I believe that I truly did give this project my very best effort, presenting it, promoting it, defending it. However, when I finally realized that it was not going to get the support of the curriculum committee, a great peace descended over me. A great burden slipped off my shoulders, and I breathed freely (at least metaphorically since I'm suffering greatly from bronchitis and asthma this week) for the first time in six months.

I feel like I got my life back. Suddenly I'm looking forward to the end of the semester rather than dreading it. When school ends May 3, instead of having to shift into high gear on designing a whole new type of course, and even longer days of staring at computer screens, I can do anything I want.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

birds' nests

A bridge is being installed to link the two parts of our small campus together across the river -- no more students dodging traffic and walking through people's yards.

Two large T-shaped pylons were formed of concrete more than a month ago, one on each side of the river. Over the past few weeks I've been watching the pigeons roosting on the pylon just below my office window, and thinking that if the bridge didn't get built soon, there would be birds nesting on the pylon.

This morning, on arriving in the parking garage, I noticed that the first two big sections of the bridge had been trucked in and are waiting to be assembled, and that the birds had built a big nest of twigs and straw right on the top of T of the pylon nearest my building. There were two great shiny white eggs nestled within it.

I tracked down one of our fabulous maintenance folk and pointed out the nest, asking if perhaps some one could move it before the bridge was dropped in place. Now that I have returned from class, I looked down and sure enough, the nest has been moved out of harms way. Just hope the mother bird can find its new location.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


Tuesday April 2, 1968 was a very important day in my high school, and for my community. Those of us who participated knew that it was important, but we had no idea at the time how significant that day would become.

My high school, San Mateo High School, was a large suburban school that encompassed the full array of social classes and racial groups of our city (the two other high schools in the city were almost exclusively middle class and white). My class, the class of 1969, were juniors in the spring of 1968. The year book which used student ID pictures and was therefore inclusive, showed the class of 1969 as having 439 students, 13 percent of whom were black, 12 percent of whom were Asian American (primarily Chinese- and Japanese-Americans), and 4 percent Hispanic. Both the lowest income neighborhood and the highest income neighborhood of the city, as well as several blue collar and middle class neighborhoods, were included within the San Mateo High School district.

Recognizing the diversity of their student body, and the growing tensions in society, the (all white) administration and faculty (out of a faculty of ninety, two were black and one was Asian) SMHS decided that there needed to be some medium to bring students together to discuss racial issues. They called it something hokey like "the friendship club" and the first meeting was held during the lunch period on Tuesday April 2, 1968.

Of course I went. The meeting was held in a small seminar like room, and was packed. There were not enough seats for all those who attended. Most of the black students were on one side of the room, and most of the white students on the other side. We were there for 45 minutes, so I'm sure that many different things were discussed. The overall tenor of the meeting was anger and passion, but at the same time a sense of reaching out and attempts at understanding. I only remember one specific topic, one that made a huge impression on me. That topic was about naming -- about begin "black" not "negro."

My parents were from the south, Virginia, and had deliberately left the south because of racism. They had grown up in families where the descendants of African slaves were called either called "colored" (viewed as polite in the South) or by the "n" word (that is no longer acceptable in our society -- except when black rap singers and black comics say it). As part of their rejection of the racism of their families and communities of origin my parents had been very careful to teach me and my brothers to use the word "negro." So I was shocked to discover that this was no longer acceptable. The young men and women in that room on April 2, 1968 were adamant, they were "black." As one young man put it, looking directly across the table at me, "We don't speak Spanish. I don't call you "blanco," don't call me "negro," I'm black and I'm proud."

The meeting was declared a success by those who attended, and plans for other meetings were made. They never happened. History got in the way. Two days later, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot on that balcony in Memphis, Tennessee.

By April 6, 1968, violence and rioting had broken out in almost every major American city; through out the San Francisco Bay Area, violence had erupted in all the cities with large black populations. April 6, 1968 was the day that Oakland, California, police ambushed the Black Panthers. Eldridge Cleaver arrested with a bullet-shattered leg. Bobby Hutton shot and killed.

Violence spilled into the streets all over the San Francisco Bay Area, except for San Mateo. In San Mateo, there was sadness, mourning, remembrance, and peace. On Palm Sunday, April 7, 1968, nearly 10,000 people, black and white, turned out for a march from San Mateo's Central Park to the San Mateo High School football field to commemorate King's life and accomplishments. The line of march participants stretched for nearly a mile and was eight or nine wide in many places. In addition to the marchers, thousands of residents, lined the sidewalks, especially in the largely black and Asian neighborhood nearest the high school. Through much of the march, the participants sang "We shall overcome." I was there, marching in the middle of the line, with my father.

To this day, I believe the reason that San Mateo, remained peaceful, despite the violence all around us, was because, on April 2, some white people in authority in the high school, had made an effort to advance the cause of racial understanding; and some white and black students got together in a room and tried to listen to each other. The participants did this because they thought it was the right thing to do, not because a national figure had been martyred, and not because there was an immediate threaten of violence.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


It is not possible for any human expression -- literary or visual -- to fully encompass the miracle that is spring. But nonetheless, I find that every spring I try to do so anyway.
It has been very wet in Kentucky, and it has been warm, so everything is growing furiously -- see our yard to the left. Where I see wild abundance, John sees yet another task (lawn mowing) to do.
In the autumn (the other season when I wax poetic), I blogged about leaf color. I learned last autumn that, supposedly, leaves do not carry red pigment in them, but must produce it in the autumn. Yet I find it curious. Those trees that display red leaves in autumn, especially red and sugar maples, actually display red leaves initially in the spring as well.
At the moment, the dominant new color in the forested mountain slopes here and in neighboring southwest Virginia is a dull rose.
Yesterday we drove down to Johnson City, Tennessee, for my 24 hour post-surgery visit (the cataract in my left eye was removed on Wednesday 4/2/08). John drove as I was not yet cleared by the doctor for driving. So I got to revel in observing the world that flew past -- with my new eyes. I no longer need glasses to see (except for reading and the computer). There was so much spring to see!
One thing that never ceases to amaze me every spring, is that there is a precise order to spring. The order never varies, although sometimes the time span covered by each stage, shrinks or expands due to changes in temperature and moisture from spring to spring.

The daffodils are always first, followed close on by the forsythia. Yellow, the most exuberant color of sunshine, is the herald of spring. [Yes, I know, among the wild flowers that bloom in the hidden corners of the woods, other colors come first, but the daffodils and forsythia are the first obvious colors in the inhabited spaces whether it is Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania or Ohio.]

Next in line are the white clouds of ornamental pear, that are very popular in the yards and city landscaping here in central Appalachia, quickly followed by the almost as popular cherry trees, with their pale pink blossoms.

The first trees to show green are always the willows, whose pale fronds sway with the spring winds. The willows have great sentimental appeal to me. I never experienced springs like these growing up in California. The only thing that I remember really marking the appearance of spring was the greening of the huge willow that stood at the corner of our neighbors yard, and filled the view from my bedroom window.

stacking stones

Sometime after February 22 (the day of the memorial for Ken), I noticed a small cairn or stack of stones balanced on the retaining wall along the driveway into the college's parking garage. The cairn has perhaps six or seven stones ranging from perhaps 10" to about 3" perfectly balanced. It has remained there, undisturbed for weeks.

I was reminded immediately of the Hallmark Hall of Fame production of "Stones for Ibarra" (Glenn Close and Keith Carradine), set in a tiny Mexican village, where the villagers stacked stones for commemoration.

The idea of stacking stones for memory/remembrance appears to be common to a variety of cultures. At the end of the film "Schindler's List" the survivors and their families, file past Schindler's grave in Israel and deposit stones.

I do not know why the small cairn was created on the retaining wall or who created it. Perhaps some one was just looking for a convenient place to put stones that had fallen in the drive way. Perhaps, a student, bored between classes used it as a way to pass some idle time. But I like to imagine that some one put it there on purpose. Because it appeared shortly after Ken's death, I imagine it as a tiny memorial to him.