Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Hello, I'm Callie...

Callie ventured out this afternoon to say hello when I got home from work--no, it was not a fun first day back!  The meeting that was supposed to have been this morning finally occurred at 1:30 this afternoon, and by then, I was "on that last leg."  I will leave off the complaints, but let's just say that I have not yet "recovered" from the exertions of the day and leave it at that.
Callie came running out as soon as she heard me putting food in the bowls, but she just wanted to play. She is well camouflaged, isn't she?

Sissy was adventurous again, this time checking out the can that holds my kindling for the chimenea.

And now, for a little sibling playtime!
Mama Fanta and her babies--J named her Fanta as her eyes are orange.
Oops!  Where did my feet go?
Remember the video by the Barrow, Alaska middle schoolers on the Inupiat culture?  While they did not win the grand international prize, they did place first in Nationals for the US, and won "Best Video" in the international competition, which included quite a few other nations.  The jury was complimentary of their video, saying:
A great capacity in connecting different kinds of material. The video is harmonious from a visual and narrative point of view, the passages are funny and empathic.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Cat Tales, Cat Tails, and Cat no tails

 It's been a fairly leisurely weekend since I had my post-surgery check-up on Friday.  I am continuing the exercises and walking, and my regime now includes going back outside to feed the birds, cats, and to sit out in the evening and watch them play.  Lots of effort at up and down, bending knee, lifting knee, and it seems more enjoyable to do it outside with the kitties.  J always names the cats, but he has not done so, and after a while of "hello baby kitty" I start calling them something.  With no imagination whatsoever, I started calling the little Calico "Callie" and this her "Sissy."  They are very socialized to humans with all the time J spends with them, so even though I had never picked them up, they had no qualms about coming to me when I put my hand down, and allow me to pick them up, pet them, set them on my chest.
 They are pretty adventurous, or at least, Sissy is.  They run under the steps when they need to hide, but are having a great time exploring the front yard--at least as far as the sidewalk.  I have not seen them venture into the grass yet.
 I am not certain if it is a trait among calicos, or just the feral ones around here, but Callie is more inclined to stay to the background, although she will let me pick her up if she is close to me.  J thinks he wants to keep Callie.  I reminded him how well that went the last time he tried bringing one of the kittens into his room, but he said he was just not adequately prepared and had not thought it through.
 Rand fired up the lawnmower just about the time I came outside with the camera, so that put the picture taking on halt for a bit.  Callie scampered under the steps not to venture out again, so I guess I will have to try for a picture of her later.

 The magnolia tree is starting to bloom, which is always my favorite thing this time of year.  The smell fills the yard, and reminds me that this magnolia tree was one of the reasons I wanted this house.  In hindsight, it would have been better to have bought a house and planted the magnolia later.

 We are mostly finished with cutting down the bush (actually, a tree, shaped like a bush) that the ice storm nudged over on its side early in the spring.  Tails likes to curl up next to the fallen branches and take his naps.
He was annoyed I woke him, but shortly thereafter, Rand came right across here with the mower, and Tails' little nest is now gone anyway.  Not to worry, he will find another spot to claim.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

"The Crossroads Town"

Image used with permission of United States Postal Service
 Emil Bisttram's "The Crossroads Town" was completed in 1939 through the Treasury Section of Fine Arts program of the New Deal Administration.  Bisttram was a Hungarian-born New Mexico artist who served as the New Mexico supervisor of the first federal art project (PWAP) (Flynn, K. A. (2012). Public Art and Architecture in New Mexico, 1933-43: A Guide to the New Deal Legacy. Sunstone Press: Santa Fe, NM.).

Bisttram's family immigrated to New York City from Hungary in 1906, where his artistic talent became evident (wikipedia.org).  He first visited the art colony in Taos, New Mexico in 1930 and "fell in love."  He won a Guggenheim in 1931 and traveled to Mexico to study mural painting with Diego Rivera.
Even the most peaceful scene--the townscape in the Ranger, Texas, Post Office, from 1939--has a story to tell. The artist found Ranger a virtual ghost town but gave hope to the former boomtown with a picture of the clean, prosperous place it could once again become. Hope on the wall, for a mere $880 (the artist's unprincely fee!) (Marling, K. A. (2004). [Book Review] The Texas Post Office Murals: Art for the People by Philip Parisi. Great Plains Quarterly)

Image used with permission of United States Postal Service

Jack Matthews (J. F. Matthews Fine Art, jmatthews.com) proposes that the figure in the mural who is holding a long, narrow bag is Bistrram himself.  He is dressed differently from the agrarian attire of the farmers and ranchers depicted.  Other muralists (for example, John McCrady) apparently inserted themselves into their murals.
Image used with permission of United States Postal Service
The Ranger Post Office, like many of the other New Deal post offices, bears the wooden entry vestibule, and the simple exterior design common to many of the buildings designed during this period.

Almost obscured by the hedges is the cornerstone with the office of the supervising architect present on the New Deal post offices.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Importance of Feedback

It is finally a day of sunshine here, at least for the moment, after days of rain and storms.  It is nice to look out my window and see the green of the trees.  I can't see my red birds and blue birds at the feeder at the moment...as I have not been able to make it to the feeder!  I am hoping by weekend, I can saunter that way and fortunately, it only takes a few hours before they spread the word:  "She's back!  Lunch!"

It is really slow going this morning, but I am beginning to perk up and hope to manage at least a few things today.  My "down" extended into yesterday, and most especially after the grueling Physical Therapy session yesterday afternoon.  I really like the PT who is assigned to me, and to the others in the facility with whom I interact, but liking aside, rehab is darned hard work.  I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment yesterday in all I was able to do--major improvement.

Remember Tommy Lee Jones and the desire for fun?  I am working on strengthening the muscles--quads, hams, knee, ankle, etc, that support the job the leg and knee have to do for us.  That has involved some effort and hard work, and a few times, downright pain.  I made a milestone yesterday, though, and that was to get my knee bent all the way in the 90 degree angle with the lower leg straight down.  I am still working for bending from a lying position, or raising the knee from a standing position, but to manage finally to get that knee bent was pretty exciting.  After I managed to do that, then I got to the fun part.

A band went around my thigh just above the knee, and was connected to a small device that resembled a pager.  On the end of the device were lights--green to yellow to red in a series of little dots.  When I tightened the quads, and squeezed the kneecap--both of which are regular exercises for regaining movement in the knee, the lights would come on.  Green, green, green, green, green...then to yellow, then to red, red, red, red.  My goal was to stay in the red, and to get to the last red, which of course, could occur only by my tightening the muscles and holding.

It was fun because it was rather like a video game of sorts if you will--demonstrating my skill. (Note: I am not at all into video games, but it was sort of like playing one with my leg muscles. :)  The feedback enabled you to see where you needed to exert greater effort to accomplish the goal.  It was really exciting (I know what you are thinking, but I have not had a great deal of competition for excitement this past week) when I got the red light into the last dot.  I managed to achieve that level about 3-4 times during the whole set of 20.  What I did see was that even though I had thought I was exerting a lot of effort, it was not effective effort--the benefit of feedback.

As an educator and practitioner, I have always been a believer in the importance of feedback.  You cannot teach nor learn without use of feedback, nor can you deliver effective social work services without use of feedback to and from the client system.  It was like a light bulb going off when I could immediately see if my efforts were producing the desired outcome, and to be able to immediately alter my "intervention" to improve the results.

I found myself thinking later last night how helpful such a device could be in so many areas.  I wondered if we hooked our students up to the device--only around their brain instead of a leg--that they could see the complexity of their thinking.  If the device stays green, you are still not complex, i.e., not using critical thinking at a sufficient level to produce an appropriate outcome.  When the student moved to greater complexity in thinking, the device would begin to light up in yellow, and, eventually, red.  Would that motivate students to increase the effort in thinking, as it motivated me to increase my efforts at tightening the kneecap and quads?  One of the most discouraging things for many of us these days (not just in social work, although it seems so much more relevant to me due to the need for complexity in thinking in order to practice effectively) is that students are so superficial in their thinking.  So many of them just want "the right answer" without having to think about the question, and consider all the many and varied complexities that are involved in how humans think, feel, and do.  I would go so far as to say that there is seldom if ever "one right answer" even when there are definitely some things that must be present in any "answer."

To have complexity of thinking, it is important that we have a curious nature--an interest in questions and questioning, and in looking beyond the obvious and superficial.  Our current system of education consists primarily of memorizing facts and statistics, answering tests about those facts and statistics, and does not encourage the level of thinking that contributes to complexity, or to curiosity.

And, speaking of creativity and curiosity, check out the video about the Inupiat culture made by a class of middle schoolers in Barrow, Alaska.  It is a good example of use of complexity and curiosity not yet been stamped out by the narrow confines of "education" in the US.  If only all assignments were relevant to our lives...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Thunderstorms, toes in the sky, nerves waking up, and weight going down

At least there are one or two good things happening with all the changes this week has brought, and one of them is a drop in weight--something that will help immensely with the joint issues.  I am also drinking a lot of water, which is beneficial as well.  I normally am an 8-10 glass a day person, but have gotten out of kilter on everything of late, and somehow, just stopped drinking water.  I have made up for it this week, and R can attest to that as many times as he has refilled my drinking glass.  I do as much for myself as possible, even learning to carry items in a small bag when going to the kitchen for food or drink, but sometimes, it is just a bit of work that I feel unable to accomplish.  I have no idea what this brace weighs, but I do know that even though I am able to swing my leg up to the bed with it on, I cannot swing it down without using my "Assist Scarf."  After a number of treks during the day, I get sort of weary at bedtime, so R usually brings my fresh water and middle-of-the-night meds to me.  He may do it grudgingly, but he still does it.

Today was one of those days where I just felt like limp jello if you know what I mean, and though not sick, just was kind of in a blue funk body wise.  I got a lot of work accomplished on some tasks that have to be done whether or not I am at work, and that was helpful in crossing off the to-do list that just seems to get longer!  I did not feel like eating, but I continued to stay hydrated with water, and forced myself to drink chicken soup and ate a few bites at supper.  I can hardly expect my body to bounce back if I don't feed it, now can I?

I also got my Physical Therapy pillow delivered today, and it is amazing!  It's a wedge pillow of foam, so it provides a firmer, yet comfortable surface.  When you use it to elevate your legs, it is like night and day in terms of decreased pain and swelling, and increased comfort.  It takes pressure off of points such as your lower back, and makes it easier to sleep on my back--I am a side sleeper, and this has been difficult to make the adjustment.  It is also used in the PT exercises, too, so that gives it an extra benefit. When I get tired of it, I just scoot it to the other side of the bed, but it is handy in case I decide I want it later.

The muscles in my thigh have started waking up, and today, the nerves in my kneecap yawned and made an appearance.  They were firing off little messages every few minutes: "Hey, look at me!  Look what I can do now!  Let's get up and go play!"  I was glad to welcome them, but equally glad they are ready for a nap now at bedtime.  It may be the result of the newest homework exercise, which involves bending my leg slowly down until there is the expected 90 degree angle between thigh and shin...I am not quite at 90, but very close.  I pushed it a few more inches each time today, and my goal tomorrow is all the way.  It might as well be my goal, because if I haven't accomplished it by 3:30, my PT will just pick it up and "assist" me to bend it.  I am not sure why it is so much more painful, and so much harder, to do the bend lying on my back trying to bring my heel to my rear, but it is.  For one, the nerve block from the surgery made it difficult, and then just the loss of tone that goes with lack of activity.  I endlessly worked on homework over the weekend and last night and today, too, as I know it is the only way I can get back to normal...whatever that may be!

And finally, it's been raining and thunderstorms again...all evening...short break...another storm...short break...not sure how long before this cell will pass over, but on the radar, it is a doozy, so it could be a while.  I guess it is time for that last trek down the hall for tonight, and hope for a good sleep tonight, and enough energy to be able to do some more posts about history, preservations, buildings, towns, and peoples!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Nietzsche, the Universe, and Simple Pleasures

I've been wondering about the music playing at the Physical Therapy room this past week, along with analyzing the skylights and how all those things might have been designed to help the healing experience.  One of the songs today was "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."  Long before someone came up with the rest of the lyrics, Nietzsche coined the introductory phrase, probably in some extreme philosophical situation that I am too tired and in too much pain to look up.  To an extent, I think it is true.  We have all had those traumatic events in our lives, or if not traumatic, at the least, stressful, painful, or hurtful.  And, many of us have weathered those events, learned from them, and achieved personal growth as a result.

Now, true, there are also events of suffering that just plain tax us and teach us not much of anything, because we are tired of the suffering and trying to find meaning in it.  I certainly don't put my level of suffering, pain, discomfort, and all the varying levels in between this week on a par with the suffering of war, bondage, torture, severe illness, or others of that ilk.  I think we are often too willing to minimize our pain and hurt because we think it not of consequence when compared with the grand scheme of the world's pain and hurt.  I am okay with placing things in perspective, and I use that as a way of managing thoughts and emotions.  I am also okay with just acknowledging that something hurts, regardless of where it falls on the "importance" scale of the universe.

I had already had that rough evening last night, but woke up doing well after the first night of sleeping all the way through the night, and determined to continue pressing on.  When in the first 10 minutes of therapy, I wanted to throw a temper tantrum, refuse to move that heel any closer to my "buttocks" which could only occur by bending the knee, because that is how painful it was, hearing "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" did not make me motivated to Rocky my way up the steps of the Lyceum or run the bleachers of Vaught, it made me want to yank the speakers out of the wall.

Pain will do that to you.  I keep thinking of one of my favorite Tommy Lee Jones lines from a movie, "I'm not having any fun here.  You know how cranky I get when I'm not having fun."  Tonight, I don't want to "be stronger" or achieve personal growth; I want to have some fun, which tonight could be as simple as not feeling like every bone in my leg has been rolled through the wringer on those old-fashioned washing machines--which by the way, for their time were a marvelous new time saver.

To end on a positive note however, note my spiffy new laptop bed desk:  Some women get flowers and candy and jewelry.  R really knows the key to my heart though: feed my computer needs.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Suzassippi tries to get back in shape, and other short stories.

Things I have learned to do for myself this week:
  • Put my sock on my left foot using the toes of my right foot
  • Use a scarf to gently pick up my leg with its metal and plastic brace that weighs "a whole bunch" and place it back on the bed after walking 
  • Walk down the hall carrying juice or water and an ice pack, whilst using crutches
  • Make an ice sandwich with my knee as the filling
  • Take my own shower, dress myself and perform all of my personal hygiene
  • Fix my own juice, yogurt, or oatmeal and carry it down the hall.
Things I have learned I will need help with for a while longer:
  • Getting in and out of the car with crutches and walker for therapy sessions
  • Putting on compression stockings; toes are not the same as fingers and hands when the subject matter is surgery-grade elastic hosiery
  • Eating anything other than yogurt, oatmeal, or ready-made beverages.
While it has not been the sort of week one just yearns for, overall, I have been quite happy, and feeling like I have accomplished a lot in the 4 days since someone "opened up my knee, took a hammer and chisel to the bones, and rearranged my knee" (my Physical Therapist, reminding me the body does not take kindly to those kinds of insults).  In some ways, the pain was worse than I imagined, and in others, I have been surprised that I am managing so well, decreasing pain, and strengthening my muscles and ability to control my body.  I worked hard this weekend (my homework) to get the swelling out of the knee and muscles functional again, and I have the records of "walk, ankle pumps, ankle rotations, knee/quads compressions, knee lifts, elevate, ice" to prove it.  I even was able to make some movements with my leg using only my muscles, and not have to have assistance and was feeling downright proud of myself.

You know the pride thing, right?  I was also doing so well in pain control that I wanted to try reducing pain medications, because you know the drill: take pain medication, nod off to sleep, wake in an hour, nod off to sleep, repeat endlessly.  Not a good plan--major pain crisis.  It feels like I stretched a muscle, as opposed to being at the knee itself and related to the incision.  So, hoping a little more rest and ice and elevation will convince my brain that I really do not need to be told "what a maroon" (Bugs Bunny, circa 1950s) one more time this afternoon, and that I have not undone all the great work I did.

If only there were the warning beep like backing up:  You are about to overdo!  Stop!

But, tomorrow is another day and recovery is an ongoing process.  Thank goodness therapy is not until 4 tomorrow afternoon...I might be ready to go by then.  And another thing on the list of accomplishments: reading an actual book...the kind printed on paper...and it has been a "page turner" in more ways than one.  Read, rest, rehydrate--my plan for the rest of the summer.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Buffalo Hunt in Eastland County

 San Francisco native Suzanne Scheuer secured the commission for the mural in the Eastland, Texas post office during the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture program operated under Roosevelt's New Deal Administration.  She painted the canvas in 1937 and brought it to Eastland to install in 1938.  Scheuer was 38 when she painted Buffalo Hunt.  She also painted Indians Moving for the Caldwell, Texas post office in 1938, which featured a similar topic--life of the Plains Native Americans.  Was the depiction historically accurate for the area?  I'll get to that in a bit.
 Scheuer included "homage to Ol' Rip" in her mural, which is historically accurate, or at least as accurate as local lore can be.  Ol' Rip was said to have been interred in the cornerstone of the courthouse when it was erected in 1895.  I personally do not understand the thinking of the mayor and other officials who would consent to burying anything alive, even a horned lizard, but then people did (and do) far worse things for "entertainment."  When the courthouse was demolished in 1928 to build a new one, the cornerstone was opened and supposedly, in front of a crowd of thousand, Ol' Rip emerged alive.

At least someone agrees with me.  Note the editorial from Texas Escapes:
As a public service announcement, we would like to point out that TheTexas Horned Toad is an endangered species and should not be placed in cornerstones. It was this sort of nonsense that put them on the endangered list. Mere possession of one can result in a $500.00 fine and a second conviction can result in a 90 day jail term and a $1000.00 fine. If you are found with a horned toad and a Barton Creek Salamander you will be drawn and quartered by Clydesdale horses.
Though not part of the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture projects, nonetheless, the stamp mural completed by Postmistress (1957-1968) Marlene Johnson is worthy of notice.  Johnson used 11,217 stamps and 7 years of her personal time to complete the mural. 

 The post office was completed in 1936 and its design features some details I have not observed in other post offices--the bas relief designs on the front of the building, in a transportation theme.

Accepted themes in the post office murals were those depicting labor, everyday life, the industrial, agricultural, or other economic basis of the community, or those representing the history of the community.  The topics were not without controversy (R. L. Stevens & J. A. Fogel, 2010, Conflict and consensus: New Deal mural post office art. National Social Science Journal, 33,2).  Although I found no indication of conflict regarding Scheuer's mural depicting Plains Indians, Seymour Fogel's proposed mural of an Apache dancer for the Safford, Arizona post office created such a furor that it had to be scrapped.  There was conflict between Eastland county settlers, the Kiowa and Comanche during the 1860s (Leffler).  While the Eastland residents may or may not have protested the topic, it is may lack accuracy as far as the area of Eastland county.  According to the Texas State Historical Association, although Comanche, Kiowa, other other plains Indians were in Eastland County,
...the region was too heavily wooded for the extensive migration of buffalo into the area. (John Leffler, "Eastland County" in Handbook of Texas Online.)
Suzanne Scheuer also painted murals for the Berkeley Post Office and San Francisco Coit Tower.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

George Street House

 George Street House...for the past ten years, I have thought of it as the house on George Street...and while I confess to wondering why this was George Street, there are stranger names on campus.  George Street House was built in 1914 in the Colonial Revival, Craftsman style according to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.  You can see other photographs that show the detail of the side and porch here, without all those trees in the way.

George M. Street, who received his BA and JD from the University served in a variety of administrative positions between 1949-1985, including the Supervisor of Student Housing, Director of Social Affairs, and Assistant Dean of Men to name only three.  The house was designated a Mississippi landmark in 1992.
What actually drew me to photograph the house last weekend while documenting PWA buildings on campus was noticing for the first time in ten years that the window on the dormer had Y tracery.  Now granted, I only learned about Y tracery a mere six months ago, so I could hardly be faulted for failure to observe this unique little detail prior to that.  Or if I had, I would have thought, "oh, that's a cool window."

I will have to set aside some time to go over to the library archives and check out the George M. Street Collection, which includes those related to James Meredith's admission (letters from parents and students, no doubt that will be an interesting read), Robert F. Kennedy's speech on campus, and Civil War correspondence.  One title that particularly beckons is named Community Plan to Counteract Racial Agitators.  There is also a copy of The Dan Smoot Report, October 8, 1962, titled "The Mississippi Tragedy."  Smoot was a former FBI agent and conservative political activist according to Wikipedia, who resigned from the FBI (amid some controversy) and "chronicled alleged communist infiltration."  We all know how the communists were alleged to be behind the Civil Rights movement, because you know how equality is such an undemocratic notion.

Pretty amazing how a simple thing like a Y tracery window could open my eyes to yet more of the fascinating history of this place I call home these days.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Oil Fields of Graham

 Alexandre Hogue, University of Tulsa Art Professor, Emeritus, painted "Oil Fields of Graham" in 1939.  It was once painted over during a post office repainting, but has since been restored and preserved.  The mural hangs inside the art moderne post office of Graham.  Postal services were relocated to a new building a number of years ago, and the old post office serves as a museum.  Hogue's painting was one of many created under the Treasury Section of Fine Arts programs during the New Deal Administration.  You can read about the tremendous influence of the New Deal on economic and community development and benefits to a wide range of workers (including artists, engineers, skilled and unskilled laborers, teachers, etc.) at the Living New Deal project.  While we all benefitted (and continue to benefit even today) from the investment in people and communities under the New Deal, if you had a personal involvement, drop me a line and share your story.

The mural
...depicts the area's economic base, oil and natural gas production, and agriculture. (Old Post Office Museum and Art Center, opomac.net).
The mural depicts E. S. Graham, the founder of Graham, standing in front of Standpipe Mountain (located in the center of Graham), and oil field workers (Nancy Lorance, American Oil & Gas Historical Society).

As adolescents, we would walk up the trail to the top of Standpipe every year for the inauguration of "Y Teens" singing "we are climbing Standpipe Mountain" to the tune of "we are climbing Jacob's ladder."  Raise your hand if you remember Jacob's ladder or know what Y Teens was!

When I first found out there was a mural in the Graham post office, I marveled at how I could have gone in and out of that post office so many times and had no recollection of the mural, which hung in a prominent location just inside the lobby.  After learning that it was painted over, I think that answers my question:  I don't recall it as it was probably not visible during those years.  It was restored many years after I left Graham.  Thank goodness there is a plausible explanation for why I could not recall ever having seen it--made me feel a lot better, given I too often have to pause and think "now which password is it for this account?"