Walnut Room this way

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

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Service Learning in Mound Bayou

(Note: these are my personal reflections and in no way represent the official viewpoint of the City of Mound Bayou.  Link to the official Mound Bayou Facebook page here, and the city website here.)

The graduate students, one of our recent undergraduate students, and my colleague and I spent the day in Mound Bayou yesterday in a day of service learning.  It was my first opportunity since summer school ended and the fall semester began to have a chance to go.  My day started at 5 a.m., and for some of the students, it was even earlier.  It was anywhere from a 2 1/2-3 hour drive for most of them, and after a full day of service, the trip back home!  While we were all exhausted, we felt satisfied with our accomplishments, our learning, and our service to the community and individuals with whom we worked.  We were joined and greatly assisted by the administrative assistant for the Taborian Urgent Care Center Project.

Regular readers know that Mound Bayou has embarked upon a path of economic development and historic preservation, and one of the most important projects at this time is the restoration and renovation of the historic Taborian Hospital.  (You can learn more about the Taborian Hospital here and here).  Part of the process of economic development is not just creating jobs, but developing the human infrastructure so people are able to qualify for those jobs: the concept often called human capital.  Besides building buildings, programs, services, you build the capacity of people.  Very often, development opportunities in rural areas do not directly benefit the people living in those communities.  Those who take the jobs provided by development come in from other areas if the local labor force is not sufficiently prepared.

The City of Mound Bayou has undertaken the process of preparing that local labor force to make sure that people who live in the community have the best opportunity to participate in the economic benefits the Taborian Urgent Care Center will bring.  The project has undertaken a series of educational training opportunities for those interested, and the response has been good.  We were asked to assist by providing some individual assessments for those who have been participating, in order to develop a plan of action in terms of additional training, education, skill development, etc., in order to help ensure people will be competitive for the job opportunities that will arise from the opening of the Taborian Urgent Care Center.  That is capacity building: increasing the ability of the community to meet its own needs--something that is central to who Mound Bayou has been from its founding.

We arrived at 9 a.m., and the community facility had been set up with tables and chairs to accommodate the interview process.  We set up the printers and copiers, laid out the forms and dived into the day.  From 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. we met with over 40 people--at last count, we had seen 42, and a few more came after that.  Other than the small glitch when a couple of students had trouble finding the facility and were waiting at the wrong location, and my being a few minutes late with the printer/copier and having to take the time to set that up, we thought the day flowed smoothly.  Our able administrative assistant had organized everything and kept things moving throughout the day; folks came well-prepared with resumes, copies of transcripts, and a clear idea of what type of health care job they wanted, and they participated fully in the process of looking at strengths, skills, resources, needs, and developing a plan of action to get themselves to the next step.  It was systems theory at its best--elements interacting in relationship to produce an outcome that is bigger than any one element on its own.

Now frankly, I knew the students were quite capable of accomplishing our goals for the day.  They are, after all, currently social workers, practicing at the BSW level.  I already knew 6 of the students from their undergraduate work, and in the brief time I have known the other 2, can see their level of knowledge, skill, and commitment.  What I did not know before the day was the level of enthusiasm, integrity, and cooperation with which they would undertake the day's plans.  Let me just say that once again, it makes me proud to call these people my social work colleagues, and to know that I have the opportunity and privilege to be part of their education--and the opportunity and privilege to learn from them as well.  We are looking forward to the learning part of the process: where we analyze what we learned from the experience.  If you truly have service learning, in addition to the service, one has to have the  reflection of what learning occurred for the student or it is not service learning--it's just service.

Each of them expressed an interest in the outcome of this community's vision and work toward that vision, and their pleasure in being invited to participate.  Now that's what I like to see: students (and social workers) who understand the need to develop and improve their skills and ability to provide direct service, but also recognize the absolute necessity of attending to the environment in which individuals are either nurtured and encouraged, or are ignored and isolated.  After all, if we had more of those nurturing and encouraging community systems, we would need far less direct social service.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Symbols, and the meaning we give to them

 Yesterday marked the final road trip for the Harley-Davidson Fat Boy Soft Tail--the second of Randy's Harley's.  Two motorcycles and twice that many years of riding, and he decided he was ready to give it up.  The Fat Boy had 5600 miles on it--all put on going to and from work, and the occasional trips to Memphis for service.

I'll confess that as we headed to Memphis yesterday for what we hoped was its final ride, there were moments when I was afraid that might be more literal than figurative.  I always follow him to Memphis--mainly so we can do errands while we waited on the Harley service, but there was always the back-up plan as well--the what if.  We always took the two-lane side road that ran parallel to 78 so we could avoid the horrendous condition of 78 and the trucks that made it that way.  That part of the road trip was always fine, uneventful.

Leaving Oxford yesterday before 9 a.m., the crowds in town for the Ole Miss-UT (as I always tell my friend who attended the University of Tennessee, UT is Texas; the other one is UTenn) were already swarming.  Before we hit highway 7 to Holly Springs, two vehicles had pulled out directly in front of him, and on the Holly Springs highway, a vehicle went around me and him, with a vehicle approaching in the other lane.  All I could do was slow down and hope the guy had sense enough to pull back over into his own lane and hold the passing.  He did not.  He cut in front of Rand on the motorcycle with only moments to spare before the other vehicle--who also appeared to be more than willing to play chicken and had not slowed down either--whizzed by.  Best not to repeat what I said.
 We arrived at Lexus of Memphis, Randy on the Harley and me in the 2002 Avalanche that was my graduation present after finishing my doctorate in 2001.  We took our first road trip in it to Ruidoso, New Mexico with our friends Jimbo and Bobbie, in November right after I defended dissertation.  That would be the first of many road trips, including in recent years, more than its share of trips back to Texas.

I was pulling a trailer when we moved J back to Texas from Florida, and topped a hill to find a logging truck in my lane headed toward me.  (Yes, in Mississippi.  I don't know what it is about this place, but I have had more close calls here than anywhere in my life, usually due to folks being in the wrong lane driving toward oncoming traffic.)  I credited the stability of the truck--along with my steady hands and quick thinking--as I guided the truck to safety on the shoulder of the road with a trailer fishtailing behind me.

This trust-worthy baby had 157,000 miles on it and still going.  We both felt a certain nostalgia and regretted to part with it.   It was paid for, serviceable, and one never knows when one might need a truck.  It was great for traveling with the dogs.  The unavoidable issue was its age, and concern about being on the highway in a vehicle that might break down, and the gas mileage.  It required $80 to fill the tank, and while for a 4WD truck it wasn't bad mileage, it wasn't good.  Buying the Lexus CT hybrid in spring only fueled (no pun intended) Randy's desire to down-size, gain better gas mileage, and have a road worthy vehicle larger than the CT for those never-ending trips to Texas to see our family.
 He really wanted the Lexus hybrid, but let me just say that in my wildest dreams I cannot begin to think that I would pay $60,000 for a car.  Well, you know, if I was wealthy I might, but I am not so that was never really a consideration.  There really was not a great deal of difference in the highway mileage on the hybrid and the non-hybrid RX.  (More space for humans, more space for luggage, and the ability to drop the back seats and carry at least some small items if not a sheet of plywood and lumber.)  In town, Randy does nothing but the 3 miles to and from work, so even the lower city mileage was not a deal-breaker.  And it was way less money.
I took my parking tag out of the Avalanche for the last time, and Rand unloaded the two bags of concrete mix from the Avalanche to the Lexus.  It was just a truck--a vehicle to get you from point A to point B, but it felt strange leaving it there with an uncertain future.  Our salesman, who sold us the CT and did such an incredible job helping us select the right vehicle this time, said this truck would probably end up being an Hispanic work truck.  I said I hoped it would provide as much service to them as it had to us.

I like to think that it would go to someone who labors with his hands to make a living, and know that workers who worked hard every day would have clean leather seats that were comfortable, and a radio that had played more than its share of Tejano music for this huera, and would hopefully see them through many years of serviceable use as they went to and from a job.  I can imagine them even now, 5 guys heading out in the early morning for the job site, laughing and talking.  Maybe on some mornings, or late in the evening as they head home for sleep before starting it all over again the next morning, they will feel the gentle vibes of all the work for social and economic justice that was done with that truck.  Maybe they will feel the presence of Courtney and Lira as they rode to Abilene from the Dallas airport on their first visit to the US, and Lira marveled at how "truckilicious" the Avalanche was, as she and Court curled into the huge back seat and slept after 2 days of travel from Africa.

So, we traded in the Avalanche and the Harley, which took way longer than we would have thought, and finally headed toward home after 5.  I sent a text with photo to our friend W.  W made many of those road trips with us in the Avalanche, and it seemed only fitting that he share the new ride.

With 100,000 people in town for the game, it was useless to try to take our normal route home.  We live on Taylor Road--the road that runs by the stadium and is a nightmare on non-game days.  We just trucked right on through to Taylor and came home the back way, figuring it would take less time than dealing with traffic, or the potential that the exit ramp for the left turn toward our house was already closed off anyway.  Frankly, when folks start drinking in the tail-gating parties in the Grove at 9 a.m. on game day, I generally like to avoid anything remotely close to campus.  You know that there is a high likelihood of some of those folks being in a vehicle on the same road as you are.

I went outside to feed the cats this morning, and for a moment, startled to see the RX in the drive.  What was not startling is to hear than UT won the game 66-31.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Finally Friday...put on some Garth

It has been an odd week here, filled with unexpected things, a good deal of productivity, and frankly, I am ready for a break.  Abby is snoozing by my side, for some reason this morning in a mellow mood rather than wanting to play.  It is cloudy this morning, with some red sunrise appearing, so we may be in for some more rainy weather again...just in time for Randy's planned motorcycle excursion to Memphis tomorrow.  I guess we will see how that goes.

Coupled with days and days of rain, which makes the yard just jump up knee high over night, the lawnmower is on the blink.  First, it was the tire and wheel, and we had to wait for those to come in.  Then, it was the battery, so we had to wait to fix that.  Now, the gas won't get up in the fuel line to the engine.  So, great, Abby and I are making the trail to her spot by stomping through the grass, while I hold my skirt up so nothing unwanted crawls up when I am not looking.

I put her out in the backyard for a while yesterday afternoon, hoping she might run off a little of her afternoon energy--that is her most active period of the day, and she can be wild.  What did she do?  Sat on the ramp by the back door, waiting to be let back in.  Reminds me of Kate, whose idea of going outside is--on one of her long days--about 2 minutes.  Apparently, Abby only likes outside if I am with her, letting her sniff her way across the yard, pick up pine cones, and chase the cats to the end of her leash.

On the productive part, I was able to adhere to my writing schedule this week for the first time since the semester began, and made major headway on the manuscript.  I completed draft 1 of the first part of a four-part manuscript--which does not sound like a lot, but required 2 days of non-stop writing from 8-5.  I completed the detailed out-line the week before the audit, but once that hit, there was no more time for writing.  Audit is over and done after last week, so hopefully, things can get back on schedule, at least until the "next thing" that can demand priority over my schedule.

As much as I would prefer the peace and quiet of this room with Abby curled up next to me, once again, it is "into the breach."

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Time to visit with Abby again

Saturday has rolled around again and Abby and I have been busy.  She just finished lunch and is in her playtime before nap time.  She is learning "sit" but it is much easier for her after she has eaten than when she is ready, and after she has been outside instead of wanting to go.  Good manners dictates that she learn to sit for her leash, sit and wait for "okay" to eat, and sit before the door is opened.  Otherwise, you have a dog jumping on people, unintentionally injuring, but doing so, nonetheless.
 We are down to one toy now, as she has become the queen of desqueaking a plush toy and ripping out the inside stuffing before I can see what she has done.  I made a sweep under the chair and ottoman this past week and found all the other toys, but in short order, Miss Piggy, "tough" Woof bone, and the spotted bone have met their demise, all in the same day.  I have to go shopping this afternoon for new toys.  She--of course--can't annihilate the baby kong, and it gets to go in the crate with her when she is unsupervised while I am at work.
 We think she appears to be fully grown, and I am happy she is going to be smaller than a regulation lab.  Perhaps there is even no lab in her ancestry, or at least nothing that has not been pretty well diluted.  She has not gotten any taller since we got her, though she has gained a bit more weight and I had to loosen her collar just a smidgen.
 While she is bigger than your typical lap dog, she is small enough that she can lie on my lap, which she likes to do in the morning after she has been fed.  That is her favorite petting time before she is ready to settle down again for her morning nap.
I won't say the change in routine has been without its challenges, although for the most part, useful and beneficial.  In addition to my arising earlier which has given me more hours of productivity, it also forces me to slow down and just "be"sometimes--an altogether useful experience as well.  This morning, I finished the second of my online continuing education courses on post traumatic stress disorder and working with veterans.  I don't do private practice therapy any more, but it has been useful information as far as my being an educator and preparing clinical social workers for practice.  I am deeply opposed to war as a method of intervention, but given that it will likely continue to be policy for the foreseeable future, and given the reality that we have done a very poor job of caring for the mental health needs of military women and men, I deemed it important to understand the mental health needs, trauma, and barriers to service for this population.  Our state National Association of Social Workers is participating in the effort to bring this training to Mississippi social workers, so I felt an obligation to participate as well.  The training was developed by some of the top experts in the field and is free right now, so those were also good reasons to take the time and make the effort.

And with that said, it's time to put the baby down for her nap and go find her some new toys.  I wonder if they make chew toys out of canvas?


Monday, September 3, 2012

Flamingo Apartments

 This cool-looking Art Moderne building has entranced me ever since our first trip to Oxford in 2003.  Last week, we were driving by and Rand commented, "I wish those people would get out of our house...of course, since it is within crawling distance of the Square, it will probably sell for 5 million dollars."  Oxford loves its Square, and identifies everything as within x blocks/miles of the Square.  I don't know what it might sell for, but I looked it up today, and one of the four 2 bedroom/1 bath apartments rents for $1,500 per month, with a $1,500 security deposit: next available August 2013.
That would probably be a surprise to architect James T. Canizaro, who received a commission in 1937 to
...design a sleekly modernist concrete apartment house...a mildly regional version of the radical International Style...(Thomas Hinds, 1996 in William Faulkner and the Tangible Past: The Architecture of Yoknopatawpha County)

 The building combines some of my favorite things: color, glass blocks, corner windows, and simple lines.

 It's common to see a bunch of college guys out in the front, cooler of beer, sitting in the ubiquitous portable red or blue Ole Miss sports chair, or sometimes tossing a flying disc or football.  Here, it appears they left the beer cans on the back steps of apartment number four.
The Flamingo is part of the local Oxford Courthouse Square Historic District, and since 2009, part of the South Lamar District in the National Register of Historic Places.  Canizaro's work on the Flamingo introduced him to the Mayor and City Council, and resulted in his opportunity to design the modernist City Hall completed in 1938...and demolished in the 1970s.  Canizaro's City Hall, Holley's Auto Garage, and the Art Deco facade of Ruth's Dress Shop were all demolished--removing any traces of modernism.  Surprisingly, the Flamingo survived.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

On Good Manners, and the Use of Language

I was in line at Kroger this afternoon, with 3 young women in front of me--all using the same basket, so most likely, roommates.  The one closest to me was holding a number of bottles of soft drink--I think 8 or so.  She dropped one of them.

The bottle exploded, sending a green sticky liquid spraying all over my grocery basket, purse, hair, face, clothing, feet.  The checker began throwing down paper towels.  I began wiping the liquid dripping from my face, neck, arms...searched in my bag for a clip to pin my dripping hair off my now-sticky neck...looked for a tissue to wipe the dripping liquid off my purse, arms, hands...wiped my wet feet on the back of my pants leg...

I was not upset at being sprayed with sticky soda pop...things like this happen, and I know that she did not intentionally drop the bottle or intentionally spray the contents all over me and my basket of groceries.  It was what happened afterward that was upsetting.

Although she had turned to look at me after dropping the bottle, she made no comment.  She apologized to the checker.  She said, "It just shot out of my arms..."  The checker said it was okay, things like this happened, she just did not want someone to slip and fall...and looked at me, leaning on my cane, wiping green sticky liquid off my face, hair, purse, etc...

No, "it" did not do anything.  Now, it is not unthinkable that someone thinks she can hold 8 bottles of soda in two hands...in fact, she did...up until the moment she did not.  "It" did not "shoot" out of her arms...she dropped it.  The actual language that is correct is "I dropped it."  And, from what I was taught, "I'm sorry" and then, clean up the mess.

I kept a smile on my face.  Finally, the young woman looked at me and said, not "I am so sorry" or "Can I get you a tissue?" but, "I hope that did not get on you."  I hope that did not get on you, while I have been wiping it off my face, hair, neck, arms, purse, feet...And then, what was the creme de la creme...the other young woman standing next to her said, "No, it didn't...it all came this way..."

I had my mouth open to form the words, "yes, it did, but it's okay...it was an accident...I'm fine" when the young woman next to her spoke--minimizing the event without any awareness of whether or not it had affected me, or apparently, caring if it had affected me.  That was enough for the other woman--the one who dropped the bottle.  She turned away with no further glance at me, nor concern.

Meanwhile, the checker had called for clean-up, even though she had been cleaning up herself...mopping up the spill with paper towels.  By the time the worker got there with mop and bucket, shoving past me, she said, "I'm done, I don't need help now."  He then shoved past me leaving...literally, as in I had to move over, move my basket.  I am standing on a cane for crying out loud, and able-bodied people act like I am in their way...oh, wait, I am.

The point?  My niece was born with cerebral palsy due to birth injury.  She has been in a wheelchair since she was about 3 and it was clear she would not walk.  I remember when my dad became incensed about not being able to wheel her into a building without going to the back of the building...when having access to parking space with enough space to get a wheelchair next to the car and open the door wide enough to allow her to get in and out of the car was rare...yet necessary.

As someone who climbed onto the roof to nail shingles, shinnied a ladder to paint the eaves of the house, hauled concrete and rocks ad infinitum, it often makes me angry that I have physical limitations. Most of the time, they are manageable and I just deal with them.  But every once in a while, I would appreciate some good manners when someone else's mistake affects my life.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Calm in Chaos: What to do when the swamping begins

 The swamping has started--you know, when there is more to do than you have time to do.  First, there's Abby.  No, I don't regret taking her--she is the sweetest, most adorable dog--true, one still in her puppy exuberance stage, but learning what she can chew on (her toys and her bones), and what she cannot (my hands, arms, feet, and shoes).  The getting up at 6 routine has certainly made me far more productive, given that there is so much to do since the semester began.
 While I miss the carefree quality of summer when I was able to be out and about, doing my two favorite things--photographing and blogging--there is a certain order that has come in my life in the last few weeks that has been beneficial.
 I miss having time to do my regular postings, and miss having time to take pictures of something to post about.  Eventually, life will get back to normal around here...or at least I can hope.  Not long ago, I read a tip about staying on top of things:  If you can do it in less than 60 seconds, do it now.  I have implemented that, and it has been an amazing thing.  I am a stacker--stack up papers to look at later, for example.  Instead, I have been looking at it now, and if I need it, file it; if I don't, put it in the recycle bin now.  Put the shoes away now.  Take the dishes to the sink and put them in the dishwasher now.  I cleaned up my office in preparation for an upcoming audit next week, and have been remarkably consistent in the approach: do it now if it can be done in less than 60 seconds.  Send the email now; file it now; if it only takes a minute, do it now.
 For several years now, there has been a group offered on campus called "Calm in Chaos."  It has been on my mind lately as the semester has begun and they have been advertising the group.  This past week, I have added this to my repertoire.  When things are beginning to spiral out of control, I say "calm in chaos."  There is no benefit during a crisis to be in crisis.  I have been remarkably focused, and I think, better at deciding what needs to be done and what can be left for the time being.
I have a tendency to take on too much, taxing my internal resources too much.  I had said at the end of the grueling last year that I would move to setting clearer boundaries: no, I decline to do that; or at least, let me think about that and get back to you.  While I did not have the time nor energy to do something today that I committed to do, I did at least have the good sense yesterday to realize that I could not do it, and to remove it from the list of things I was able and willing to accomplish today, given that we are still preparing for the audit next week.  Nothing like finding out at 3 p.m. on a Friday before a holiday weekend that someone wants something she neglected to tell you about during any of the numerous conversations from the previous 4 days in the week.

I am one person with finite resources, and limitations that have been increased during the past two weeks back at work.  All parking in front of, behind, and to the side of our building has been removed due to renovation and construction.  The closest place to park of any kind has been in the range of two blocks, walking both up and down steep inclines, over areas where there is broken or uneven sidewalk.  There are two ADA parking spaces behind two buildings at the end of our block, and they are never available.  There are no other ADA spaces within 2 blocks of the building.  The two closest bus stops are--yes, at the top of the hill two blocks up, and at the bottom of the hill two blocks down, so there is no advantage to riding the shuttle--it just increases my commute time.  So, when you see me creeping downhill to avoid tripping, and slowly struggling uphill, be kind to me instead of swerving around me in annoyance.  I could be your grandmother.  And, I am calm in chaos.