Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way
Walnut Room? This way, please.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Goodbye Sportster, Hello Fat Boy Soft Tail

Today was the big day: off to Memphis to pick up Rando's new Harley.  Last day in the saddle of the Sportster;  armor on and ready to ride.

They had all the paper work ready and 5 minutes later, Rando rang the bell signaling purchase of a new Harley.  Everyone applauds and then it's back to work.  While they got the Fat Boy ready, we did a little shopping and grabbed some lunch at some hokey place called the Longhorn Steakhouse.  I relentlessly made fun of it during the entire meal, but they did have really good iced tea.  I said Gigi would have gotten a glass to go. :)
The Fat Boy Soft Tail--kind of an interesting name for a HOG, isn't it?
Unfortunately, by the time we headed home (an hour and a half drive) the wind was blowing worse than usual.  Randy stopped at Byhalia and took the windshield off as he said it was buffeting so badly that on a new bike that handled differently, he was not comfortable with it yet.  Although the saddle on the Fat Boy was much more comfortable and it handled well, it was still a pretty miserable trip for him.

All in all, though, a fun and pleasant day and we both enjoyed it very much.  His plans are to ride the Fat Boy to Texas in June when he goes to see his dad.  Hmmm....I wonder if he will be saying "What was I thinking by the time he hits Louisiana and is only half way there?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What is reality?

My friend recently asked this question on her blog.  It pertained to someone saying "No wonder you have such a hard time going back to reality" and the ensuing discussion of whether certain experiences were real or not real.  She asked for feedback regarding her experience and the conversation.  Because I am often wont to jump right in on a question, I decided to just wait and see what others said first.  Today, while working on research on my next proposal, I ran across something that struck a chord of resonance with me.  

The topic of the research is social justice, and how one promotes it.  Several articles in the literature review addressed the topic of white privilege.  One article (Jeffery, 2005) concluded that it was difficult--if not impossible--to practice anti-racist social work from the social work professional pedagogy, in that whiteness is the basis of the profession.  In other words, the profession was developed and borne out of the white liberal perspective of promoting justice and caring for the Other--the marginalized.  So, anything we do recreates that--no matter how enlightened we become, we are still using our 'dominance' (our view of how to be with and treat others) as the pedagogy of the profession.  One author argued 'the reality is that the white classroom teacher can "perform" the multicultural tricks while never having to critique her positionality as a beneficiary' of the system (McIntyre, 1997, p. 13).  I found my thoughts returning to that throughout the day as I worked on the literature review for the proposal.  I began to think of my own situation--actually from my first memories as a person as well as my social work education in the southwest, and now the southeast, and in my work in South Africa.

I feel about South Africa pretty much the way my friend does about Belize.  But, I began to question my own reality about it.  It is always hard in one sense for me to come back to the "reality" of the US when I have spent time in South Africa.  In a way, it is the same as when it used to be hard for me to return to Texas after time in New York City.  I recall the time my friend and I discussed how likely it was that we romanticized NYC; it was easy to do given that we were always staying in mid-town Manhattan in a nice hotel, with sufficient money.  It was one thing in that environment to take the A train to Harlem for the day, or take the train to Brooklyn for Sunday morning church services.  It would be quite another to live in the Bronx or Brooklyn or Harlem and deal with crime, violence and poverty on a daily basis--especially as a poor or working class person.

South Africa is that way as well.  It is one thing to go stay--even for weeks at a time--with my US income which goes much farther there and work in the townships and informal communities when I can drive back to my flat at night and have a nice dinner with my friends.  While it is reality for me, and I am happy there--and no doubt doing important work and contributing to others, it is not reality in the sense of I live there and grapple with the daily struggles of a country where over 70% of the population does not have basic needs, and where in the face of that reality, even people who do have basic needs struggle.

Several years ago when I was due my sabbatical, I wanted to go to New York City.  I said I knew I needed to take the next step, and that what I wanted to do was make arrangements with an ordinary family living in Brooklyn to stay in their home.  I asked my pastor/social worker friend who works in Harlem and pastors a church in Brooklyn if he could help me make such an arrangement.  I was willing to pay "rent" and to contribute as a member of the household, but I wanted to actually live the life--walk the walk--of ordinary people doing the daily struggle for social justice.  Lucius did not answer in a timely manner, and by then, I had traveled to and fallen in love with South Africa and spent my sabbatical there instead.  I have a friend in South Africa who says that "next trip" I must stay with her--in a township...in a house without running water.  I think that I could stay for a night or two, but that I am so accustomed to having my own bathroom and my own bed that it would be so hard to give those up and live in a small place with 4 adults and about 8 children--no shower, no tap water, although they at least have a flush toilet.  Many more do not, and still use the 'bucket' system--little more than an outhouse in the front yard; the only advantage is sanitation trucks pick up the used buckets and leave a clean one.

So, when I think about what is reality in this setting, I wonder how much of our belief it is reality is based on our privileged situation in how we view those other settings.  I don't mean that to be critical of my friend, or myself, or our experiences.  But, the reality seems to be to me that when we are in those other places--whether it is South Africa or Belize or St. Paul Island, we are there from a privileged standpoint in terms of housing, food, health care, transportation, and how we choose to work or spend our free time.  We are not there as marginalized people--or even well-off people, who still have to deal with the actuality of living in that environment.  Most people of means who go to South Africa, or Belize, or even St. Paul Island are going for an escape: to be a tourist in some of the most beautiful places in the world.  Even those of us who go to work for social justice or in solidarity and support of marginalized peoples in those area are still somewhat of a "tourist" in not giving up our own lives elsewhere.

I don't have an answer to my friend's question: what is reality?  I just know that after spending an entire day of researching the construct of promoting social justice that I have far more questions than I started out with, and far less certainty in our ability to create it.  There is a saying--I don't recall who from--about something to the effect of if you are here to save me, don't.  But if your liberation is bound up in mine, work with me.  The more I attempt to understand how the colonization of our minds has occurred like some slight of hand, the more I understand how deep is my lack of understanding.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Blue Birds and Fat Boys

No, I am not being insensitive.  Randy will not be able to go pick up the new motorcycle until Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday of this week.  In the meantime, he just came in and said "Here is what I really want."  News flash: It's not the Fat Boy.  I said "fine" since I figure his motorcycle is sort of like my taste in wine: you are better off to spend $25-50 for a bottle you really love than waste 15 on one you don't.  The one he really wants is 2600 more than the Fat Boy.  My thinking is once you have paid thousands of dollars, you might as well spend a couple K more to get what you want.  Am I not the world's greatest spouse, or what? :)
While putting my gloves away after helping Rando putting the toilet back in the hall bath, I spotted the first blue birds of the season.  I went out on the porch to lie in wait to take a photo and noticed the baby birds have been born and were waiting for lunch.
I love my blue birds!  Spring is really here when the blue birds and orioles show up!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

When the old motorcycle is not good enough...

I'm guessing Rando was pretty bored on his way to Memphis this morning to test ride a new motorcycle.  I do have to admit to being impressed with this iPhone photo out his window--he was in his truck, not on a motorcycle whilst doing this.  Shortly after his emailing me the photo on his iPhone, the motorcycle ring tone on mine went off.  (Yep, that means it is Rando).

"What is your social security number?"  Another hour later and it rings again: "Can you bring me my motorcycle?"  Of course, since neither J nor I ride, and he was in the truck, that was just a little back door way of saying, "Yes, I bought a new one." :)  So, he is on his way home and since the thunderstorms are coming any time now, he will have to do the actual trade and pick up tomorrow or later in the week.

There used to be a running joke with my friends and me that every time I took a trip, Randy bought something: first, it was a digital camera; then it was a new computer; then it was another new digital camera, and so on.  I have not been anywhere except work or out to feed my friend's dogs, and he thinks he deserves a motorcycle?  LOL  I guess taking off work for the last two days and using vacation time to install a new microwave/convection oven and replace the bathroom floor that J and I unsuccessfully attempted to replace in December is a reason to celebrate with a new Harley. 

Maybe by next December, we will actually have the whirlpool tub (currently sitting in J's floor as that had the only doors large enough to get it through) installed, and the shower and surround installed.  My next major task, once the tub is in, is to get the tile laid on the floor so we can put a toilet back in and install the new sink.  We have managed with only one shower since December quite satisfactorily, but the idea of all of us using one toilet--which is located in the master bedroom--is a call for action.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The color yellow

I am always amazed to glance out the window by my computer and catch a new sight.  Yesterday, I spotted these yellow birds in the feeder--it is their first time to visit this spring.  Last year was the first year I had seen them at my feeders.  I spent hours looking them up, and we finally decided they were some type of oriole--but I have since forgotten what. 
Coming back from an errand, I noticed Grandma's irises had bloomed--and I almost missed them!  I dug them up from Texas and brought them with me, carefully planted them along the drive.  Those have never bloomed except for one lone iris and it will have one or two flowers on it.  Last year, I discovered profuse blooms where I had tossed the remaining roots that I had deemed too damaged to replant.  They are the only ones that have bloomed and are prolific--if in a spot where I almost miss them.  I think I will dig up the others and just toss them on top of the ground and see what happens.
Glancing out one morning this week, I noted this little squirrel happily munching away on the sunflower seeds.  I have hung the other feeders where the squirrel cannot get to them, but this little guy got brave enough to come up to the one right next to the house.
The deer have also gotten braver and will come up at night and empty this one.  At least, with 3 other deer-proof feeders, they have a start on breakfast the next morning until I can re-fill them all.
This tree has profuse blooms that just pop out every year--for two weeks, the smell is almost sickly sweet on the screened porch and the bees and butterflies will cover the tree.  It appears to be a major food supply, so I haven't the heart to remove it, even though it is way too big for its spot, and the smell is overpoweringly sweet--like a room full of flowers at the funeral home.

Monday, April 13, 2009

For my friend



I just found out today that my friend's arrangements for her dogs while she is on a business trip fell through; another friend has been taking care of them for her.  She had to work late tonight, so I said I would go take care of them.  Here, one of the boys brings the ball and says "Throw it for me, please?"

Randy tossed the ball, while I petted.  One guy is a regular ball boy, and the other is just "pet me, talk to me, pet me some more."  If I walked away (to put out fresh water, for example) he would whine and follow me.
We alternately played ball and petted dogs whilst changing water, setting up food, and picking up all the items they had determined were toys and depositing them back in the trash can. :)
I also spotted a dead possum in the yard, and though it took a while, I loaded it onto a shovel and took it to the woods.  I confess, I did not properly thank the possum for its service and bury it--I was having a hard time not gagging.  I did warn the boys if they dragged it back into the yard, I would be hard pressed to want to move it again, so leave it in the bushes.  I did not want my friend to come home to a dead and rotting possum carcass in her yard.
More petting and promising to come back tomorrow and play some more til Mom gets home.
On the way home, I noted one of my favorite sites in Mississippi--a field of flowers.  I cannot look at this expanse and not feel a sense of renewal.  It helps to make up for all the things in the world that aren't beautiful.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

29 days of revision with a 30 day deadline

After countless revisions on the computer (I have at least 10 saved versions of revisions) and this stack of printed copies and notes, I finally completed the manuscript revision today and emailed it back to the editor of the journal.  I had 30 days to revise, and the reviewers asked for significant additional information, which required significant amounts of new research, along with reorganization of the manuscript.  My co-author is in Belize on sabbatical and doing research there that has to be 100% of her time on sabbatical (some sort of rule about it LOL) so it was push come to shove to make the deadline of tomorrow.  It has been a tremendously busy 30 days which included having to develop a major advanced workshop to present at NASW, and two major group functions with my class, in addition to all the regular things that have to be done.
Libby was not all that impressed with the amount of work it took, though she has totally enjoyed getting to stay in the room with me and nap while I am on the computer.  
When I piled the finished work next to her to see if it was as high as she was tall, you can see what she thought of the comparison.
And finally, she expressed her total boredom with the whole aspect of papers, revisions, and whether or not I needed any pictures of them.
I have been at the computer from 9 until after 5 non-stop for the last 4 days.  It was harder Thursday, Friday, and Saturday as it was sunny, clear, and pretty and a day begging to be spent outside.  Today dawned dark, cold, and raining, so it has not been as difficult.  I stepped out on the porch, intending to sit and have a glass of wine to celebrate finishing the manuscript--and what I think and hope is a satisfactory enough revision to merit decision to publish--but it was just too darned cold.  The swallow who nests on the porch each year was warming her eggs and thanking her lucky stars for such a great little location.  It makes a terrible mess on the porch each year after the babies hatch, but I haven't the heart to make them homeless.

One of my greatest joys here is having a wildlife friendly environment for birds, bees, butterflies, and deer...oh, and all the homeless dogs in Mississippi.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

It always turns out the way it turns out

We were back in Riverside Monday afternoon for another activity.  I think they were a little disappointed in several things that had occurred in their group work over the semester.  I was thinking last night after the activity, though, how things always turn out the way they turn out, and how important it was that this group experienced what it did.  I suppose that is much easier to do as many years as I have been doing this work, but nonetheless, I can see the value in the outcome that they achieved.

We arrived and the group began to set up for the activity, which was painting tee shirts.  They had worked hard to try to obtain donated tee shirts, but were unable to do so in time for the activity.  Farah's father graciously donated them for the group.  Thanks and much appreciation, Farah's dad!

Only a few children got off the school bus--in contrast to the usual crowd of them who wash down the hill like the surf on a normal day.  It was a cold and overcast day, and the group's spirits seemed to match the day at 3:30.  When normally we are overflowing with children, we did not yet have any.  

Shortly after, though, they began to trickle in.  Moms came home from work and dropped off a couple, others walked up with a few friends in tow, and by 4, we had a small group around the table, selecting colors, stamps, and brushes to paint their shirts.

In came one little boy and asked, "Will you help me with my homework first?"

Farah took him to a vacant table and began to assist him with math.  This is an outcome that never would have happened if (a) the group had been able to carry through their original plan, or (b) they had joined the group who were there Saturday, or (c) they had gone the first time they wanted to when I would not permit it, as it would interfere with the group who had planned their activity there originally.  It was a perfect example of things always turn out.

When we first started our work at Riverside, we always helped with homework first.  Pre-schoolers did "homework" too, as we worked on letters, numbers, counting games, or read stories to them while the older kids did homework.  Then we all switched to fun activities.  To encourage a child with homework, and to help him love learning and doing well and being successful in school is about one of the most important things I think we can do for children.  It is the abysmal school failure rates in Mississippi and Lafayette county that prompted our initial work in Riverside.  While black and white children start out in first grade with comparable reading skills, that figure begins to drop by third grade.  By 7th grade, while 66% of white children are still reading at an acceptable level, less than 20% of black children are.  That statistic is unacceptable--or at least, it should be.  


The purpose of the activity as planned by the group was expressive painting.  Anyone who has ever worked with children knows you just have to give them paper and a marker, paints, crayon, or pencil and they will happily draw and color.  Instead of paper, we had given them tee shirts.  Encouraging creativity in art help to foster follow through, and enhance critical thinking.  The very fact that we had fewer children meant they got more one on one attention and interaction.  That was another thing that "turned out" that could not have happened in a larger group.
One of the things that means the most to children is time and attention from caring adults.  They would not have cared what the activity was: it did not matter if it was painting tee shirts or drawing on a paper plate.  What matters to them is someone spending time with them, encouraging them, acknowledging them, praising their efforts, and letting them contribute.

One little girl wanted to help me wash sponges after we were finished painting.  The simple act of allowing her to help clean up encourages responsibility and sharing.  An outcome that would not have been likely to happen in a larger group.

At one point, someone asked B if he wanted to go paint his tee shirt yet.  He replied, "I'd rather finish this [his homework] first."  Imagine if we could nurture that in all our children!  When he finished his math and put his folder away, Tatum and Farah helped him finish his shirt as most of the kids were finished by then and having a snack.
We all finished the clean up just as my favorite police officer Greg stopped by.  He asked if we were back, as he had heard we had been there Saturday.  I told him we were going to be coming back at least 2 or 3 times a semester for a while, and he was pleased to hear it.  

This community has so welcomed me and the students in my class since we first started going there.  They have allowed us to contribute to them and their children; many students have told me how much it meant to them, so I know it is a mutual interaction for us and for the community.

I know for some of the students it is just about doing something to get it over with and get a grade, but for many of them, I know it is about their passion for making a difference in the world.  Having been doing this for so long now, I can see how even little things make a difference.  When we have not been there for weeks or even months sometimes, the fact that the children continue to show up and want to participate, that they hug us and enjoy themselves in even simple things like cookies and juice tells me how much of a difference it does make.

Someday, some of these children might say "You know, I don't remember their names, but these students from Ole Miss used to come to the apartment complex where I grew up and do stuff with us."  If they do, then we will have made a difference, whether we ever know about it or not.  It may be another seed that we never know will take hold, sprout, root and grow.  That part may belong to someone else.  One thing we can know, though, is if we do not plant, no one will ever reap."It turns out the way it turns out."  A perfect example of interaction and mutual aid in action.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

"I love it when a plan comes together"--the A Team

One of the groups in Practice III completed their second community project today.  We were in Riverside for the morning.  One of the members had enlisted the help of the Iota Phi Theta fraternity and the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority.  We opened our boundaries to add some new resources the the system.
All of the students solicited donations as well as bought items themselves, and they had a great treasure chest full of prizes for activities.  Rhonda was able to obtain donations from the Hernando Wal-Mart, where she works.  Another great example of inputs: locating resources in the community.
April's husband, Alex, is a police officer assigned to the unit, and he grilled the hot dogs for us. Another resource for the system. The children were lining up for the first activity--a treasure egg hunt.  We had plastic eggs filled with candy or gum.  We even had baby dinosaur eggs, Captain Nemo eggs, and baseball, football, basketball, and soccer eggs.  The treasure egg had two gold leaves in it.
This young woman was obviously happy that her egg had the gold leaves--grand prize was a $25 gift card to Wal-Mart.
The group after the treasure egg hunt.  We had a few late arrivals who missed the "hunt" but the group members made up bags of eggs for them so that everyone attending had some.  An example of equifinality: we start in different places, but end up with the same outcome.
Dorothy assisted Hanna in learning how to work the bubble wand.  It is always exciting for me to see the kids who were just babies or toddlers when I started working at Riverside, and see how they have matured and developed new skills.  I stopped in to say hello to Hanna's mom as well.  Tamara was one of the moms who was always so supportive and helpful when we first began to work there with the tutoring project back in 2005.
Another one of the guys who has grown a lot:  Biggie was really a tiny little thing when we first began the work there.  Here, he waits his turn for face painting.
Everyone lined up to play musical chairs--one of their all-time favorites.  I think every group who has ever gone to Riverside has played it and the kids never tire of it.  
B G finally had to get in the middle to be able to judge more accurately.
Getting ready for the Balloon Pop.
Ashley s-l-o-w-l-y painting a mask for a young woman.  We told her it was a good thing she did not get "paid by the piece" as she would never earn very much.
One of the Sigma Gamma Rho sisters showing off her art work.
After painting, spoon races, bunny hop, balloon pop, musical chairs and lots of prizes being given out, it was time for hot dogs.  Yet another resource for the physical needs of the system.
After plenty of hot dogs, chips, and home made chocolate chip and sugar cookies (thanks, Ashley!) the Iota brothers did 3 step-dance routines.  Kristen's 18 month old, Lawrence, began to imitate them, but I had put the camera aside to get contact information from the Iota brothers and Sigma sisters.  They offered to help out with other community work we did in the future:  more resources for the system!
After a fun morning, with absolutely perfect weather, we cleaned up and headed our separate ways.  I may have just a little bias when it comes to Riverside as I love the kids and going there.  I miss our being there as much as we used to, and the kids miss us.  I saw another mom, Stacy, who is always so kind to express her appreciation for our work with the community.  

I am always going on and on to the class about the importance of balancing task with process.  It is easy to get task focused and forget that group members have socio-emotional needs, and that understanding the process and building good group dynamics is essential to having a group that is successful.  Well, this group has finally figured it out!  They understood and demonstrated use of the process to produce a successful task outcome.  Not only had they gone all out to use each other's strengths to accomplish the task and in an inspiring way, they had done so with little disruption in their group dynamics.  Even this morning, their dynamics were flowing so smoothly:  good communication and interaction, evident cohesion, appropriate social norms, and a group culture begging to be acknowledged. 

When I see a group in the class finally come together in becoming the "it" of the group--where the group is more important than anything else--it always gives me a sense of hopefulness.  This group is in differentiation: mutual aid, and getting ready to transfer this learning outside of their own group and into the work they will do in the future.  When I see us: black and white, younger and older, new folks we did not know and people with whom we have long-standing relationships all coming together in a common purpose, having fun, and making a difference in service at the same time, I just won't give up that we have the capacity and ability to change our communities and to build nurturing and strong places in which our children can grow up. 
As the team leader used to say on "The A Team" I love it when a plan comes together.  Planning: it's how it works.  You really were the "A" team today, in both process and task.  Anna, we missed you, but you were there with us in our thoughts.  Hope you are back with us soon.