Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Stuck in a Rut

 The snow and ice came in Sunday night--it was not much, but enough to keep us home bound for the rest of the evening and Monday.  The sleet started while I was at the grocery store.  By morning, Rio's lot was a mud pit where he walks his circle around the woodpile, and his hay barn was slushy by the door, but warm and dry inside.

The Sunday day shift had not shown up, so sis and I covered from 11 Saturday night until 7 Monday morning, and then discovered that the day shift for Monday was iced in, and the evening shift for Monday would not return until late Monday night.  We covered another day and night.  Still, it is always nice when it is just sis, mom, dad, and me.  I cooked dinner and made another apple skillet cake--thanks, Lana!--and managed to get my car stuck in the mud down by the barn.  (It's a long story, so suffice it to stay, the car stayed there Sunday night and until Sis' bro-in-law came to give me a tow out this morning.)

Fortunately, the day shift was able to get here this morning so Sis could go home for the first time since Saturday night at 11, and I am able to get out and run the necessary errands: pharmacy, mail, grocery store.  I take Mom to doctor at 4 to get her stitches out, and then will make a run out to Sis' house as we are working on some plans that need planning and finalizing, and we will be back at 11 for the night shift.
 I have enjoyed sitting out on the breezeway most nights, enjoying the string of lights I hung, and the little flashing lighted star I found while repairing a drawer knob one day.  The days and evenings settle into a routine when I am here, and it is a routine that somehow brings about a sense of rest and peace, even though it is busy from the time I get up at daylight until the time I turn out the light after midnight.  I will be here for the 3-shifts-in-a-row New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, and then barring more tornadoes or ice storms or parental disasters, head home to Mississippi early Saturday morning after one last time to feed Rio until the next trip.
I met my new great-great niece, and Dad enjoyed holding his new great-great granddaughter Christmas night.  It has been a most wonderful time of the year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Hello from Texas; hello from Rio

Rio and I have had a wonderful few days in the 70 degree Texas weather.  I have mowed, cleaned his hay barn, cleaned his water trough, cleaned house, and cooked Lana's wonderful apple skillet cake.  I am at the grocery store picking up a few last minute items, and unexpectedly, no one is here, and there are plenty of the items I need. 

Snow and rain predicted, so I may be here a bit longer than anticipated...

Friday, December 11, 2015

La cloture, las cerca, il recinto: The fence

Doesn't la cloture just sound way more elegant than "fence?"  Called by any name, we are happy it is completed.  We rebuilt on a smaller scale for a couple of reasons--to be able to clear the brush and keep it clear near the hillside, and because we really did not need to fence the entire yard.  The purpose is to keep dogs in the yard while they do their business, and this will also make it possible to keep their business cleaned up--unlike trying to police an entire acre of yard and brush.
It provides privacy to the back and side of the house, encloses the air conditioner unit from animals and dogs, and gives the dogs a safe place to be outside.  Only Abby is interested in the occasional romp and run, so it is large enough for that.
The fence extends along side the house and a bit into the front yard just to provide a little privacy, but does not enclose the front.  The old fence and gate extends from the house to the new fence and allows us to access the area where the air conditioner unit is located.
There is enough space to the side between the fence and the edge of the hill to get the mower and keep things under control there.  I still have a bit of landscaping work to do on the hillside itself, to prevent further erosion now that all the kudzu is burned and I am beginning to research how best to do that.  Meanwhile, another day at work beckons, and the yard has to wait until tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Final Challenge

We face our final challenge today in the groups class--the literal Challenge Course.  It is a grand way to complete our training on facilitating therapeutic groups!
The student on the right in the photo will be the group leader.  She has many years of experience and training on the Ropes Course and facilitating workshops, and since this is her area of intended practice, it was a perfect opportunity for our conclusion to the coursework.  We are calling it our Fun Final.  While they will have numerous opportunities to learn new therapy techniques and add to their skill base, it is also such a personal growth and learning experience that I can think of no better way to continue the professional development of understanding and using self in social work practice.

Although they still have the spring semester and the clinical internship to finish, it is the last class I will teach for them.  Best outcome ever!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Ouch...the gift that keeps on giving...and giving...and giving....

Yeah, yeah, I know, I quote Tommy Lee Jones way too many times in this blog about "I'm not having any fun here; you know how I get cranky when I'm not having any fun."  But, still, I am going to do it again, and you know I am going to do it again.
There was that whole fire burning up the fence, yard, trees, half the hill-side thing last month, right?  I have been steadily, including my Thanksgiving break week and all the weekends since then, trying to clean up the mess.

The fence replacement company began this past week and most of the burned fence and posts are now gone, and new fence will go up soon.  In the interim, I have cut burned brush, burned kudzu, burned trees, cleared leaves, cut live trees, bushes, and honeysuckle vines too close to the house, and raked and hauled it out of the way of the new fence line so many times I cannot remember, although my knees and hips and back can remind me.

Today dawned bright, clear, sunny and pleasant, and while I had sooooooo many other things to do, the yard beckoned yet again.  I spent the day doing the same thing I have been doing for the past several weeks, and by 4 PM, felt like I was literally on my last leg, last hip, last knee, last foot and just had to quit even though I was not done and there is more left before Monday--when fence building will start.

As I walked up and down the hill, drove the lawn tractor around moving, hauling, mulching, raked and sawed and cut and pruned and cleaned, there was that part of me who is always thinking, planning, just enjoying the physical labor.  When I finally called it quits, poured a glass of wine, and walked the yard yet again for the umpteenth time since the night of the fire, I had that all over again feeling of how close we came and how fortunate we were.  The fence (and the never-ending kudzu) actually kept me insulated from how close I really was to others.  In spite of the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" it has enabled me to get some things done that have long needed doing, and is a reminder once again of why we need to reach out even when others do not, or do not reciprocate if we do.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

On dogs and building fences

 Kate has always wanted all the toys.  Nothing makes her happier than to be in the center of a pile of chew toys, unless it is being in the center of a pile of pillows on the bed.  She is always a little pouty when R is gone, but she has done pretty well this week.  She perked up last night when I told her only two more days and he would be home.  He has decided to return on Thursday because ice is predicted for the weekend.  Great, just what I need when I have spent a week preparing for the new fence building.
 It has been pleasant here this week, so I took advantage of it and worked on getting fallen limbs and leaves out of the way of where the new fence has to be built.  Friday afternoon, all day Saturday and Sunday, and much of yesterday were involved in the giant task, but I am almost done with it.
I knew there were pieces of concrete under a pile of leaves in one section, so I had to figure out which pile of leaves that would be.  They have only been there for 12 years.  R had piled them up so as not to run over them with the lawn mower.  Yes, I know most folks would have piled them in a wagon and hauled them somewhere out of the way, but R is a short-cut man when it comes to heavy lifting.  By the time I found them and got them out of the leaves, I was about heavy-lifted out myself.  Still, it was satisfying to complete so much of a gargantuan task.  This last little pile of leaves and smaller pile of rocks ain't nothin'!

Monday, November 23, 2015

With love to the future...

The letters to future self were part of our ongoing training in working with groups, and using a strengths perspective, and understanding growth and development, with the second year students.  Today's class was the first year students, and it is their first semester.  It is daunting.  I well recall my first year in my MSW program, while working full-time and commuting 6 hours round trip, spending 8-10 hours at the university on top of that commute time.

There were many outcomes in class today that I believe reflected their learning, and their desire to learn.  I continue to attempt to understand how to be a more effective educator in what I believe is the most important thing I can do: prepare students to practice social work.  Sometimes, I wish I could take all that I have learned in my life, my practice, my education, my experience, and just capsule it so they could see what I see.  And then, I remind myself of what a limited view that would be if that was all that they had.

We had 15 minutes left, which is 12 minutes longer than Elizabeth Kubler Ross would give people to draw her a picture of what they thought, but it was just about right from my perspective.  I still had the materials from our class last week so I laid them out on the table and offered the first year students the same opportunity...sort of.  The goal last week was in recognizing and understanding where they were at this moment in time compared with where they were a year ago when they began, what would they say to their future selves?

Today, the option was what do you want to say to your future self to help you to achieve the goal you have set?  Today, we are doing visionary work: what will enable you to get there?

What are the important "take-aways" from the message above, from the student last week?
  • You are not alone; we are all in this experience called surviving.  In the big 'ole lifeboat off the shipwreck, how much you have or do not have is not the issue.  What can you bring to the solution of the problem?
  •  It is okay to make mistakes while learning; we are always learning.  If we are learning, we learn not to keep making the same mistakes.  We want to learn how not to make those mistakes again.  Not knowing is okay; not learning what you do not know might create some problems.
  • "You are not your grades."  Let me repeat that: You are not your grades.  We have so conditioned our students to believe that their learning lies within the numerical score that they do not see other possibilities.  I have had students who were D and C students who demonstrated more learning than their B and A counterparts.  Why?  They learned something; they wanted to learn something; they put the hard work into learning something, even when the numerical score would seem to indicate that they did not.
  • Trust yourself
    • Trusting yourself is not the same thing as ignoring anything else.  It does mean listening to your own voice.
  • Trust the feedback
    • Who can tell you what to do?  From whom will you accept help?
  •  Trust the process 
    • Life is developmental. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Your Perspective Matters

 Have I said before how much I love this class?  How much I love these second year students?  There is a saying When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.  These students became the teacher and I, the teacher/student, was ready to learn.  The circle has opened and closed and opened.
 Together, we co-created a journey that has unfolded and evolved over the course of the weeks through a parallel process.  It feels a little bit like being in a parallel dimension and looking at your self from both within and outside of yourself.
The topic was later stages of development in the group: endings and transitions.  Transition is exciting: walking where a path does not yet exist.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Thursday, November 12, 2015

When things are not very clear

 You know how we all have those times when things are just not very clear.  There is too much "noise in our head" as one of my friends puts it. 
 Although there have been many times in my life when my vision lacked clarity, I think perhaps the most useful fog was my experience on St. Paul's Island, in the Bering Sea--literally and figuratively.  Due to the frequency of the fog, mist, rain, cloud cover, if one did not know what was in the immediate distance, one would not know what was in the immediate distance.  But somehow, even while the reality often was veiled in the fog, I would find clarity.  I believe it came from seeking, earnestly, to understand and to know and to use that understanding and knowing to be a more effective human being at that point in my life.
Sometimes, perhaps closer to 'home' both of those are more difficult for us to achieve.  Do you ever feel like you are warring factions of self?  That one part of you earnestly seeks to understand and know and use, in order to become a more effective human being in the only thing that matters: relationship with others.  And at the same time, one part of you just wants to raise your hands in surrender and kneel down with your hands behind your back, waiting for the handcuffs and unjust arrest and subsequent unjust punishment.
When those moments occur, my desire is to focus on not what is the lack of clarity, but what is clear.  When a student took the above photograph a few years ago, she labeled it "scary."  I do not know why she thought so when she sent it to me, but I think about it now in the midst of all that is transpiring, and agree.
Scary.  Things are obscured behind me, to the side of me, below me, above me.  I am on the edge with little separating me from the abyss.  I am not even looking where I am going.  And yet, there is a peace, a serenity.  It will be okay.  Others do not define my reality.  That is up to me.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Little River at Elkmont

 Little River at Elkmont, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The bridge was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, completed 1936-1937.  You can read more about the Elkmont Bridge at Suzassippi: Red Shutters.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Twelve Years of Therapy

Last night, I had the thought that living in Mississippi has been like 12 years of therapy.  Neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, but a lot of work and hard work and discovery and challenge and understanding and self-awareness and other-awareness and realization and new questions.  That slowly emerged into my consciousness as I sat on the porch, thinking about the conversation I had with a new member in the department.  It is the time of year for advising for registration for the upcoming semester, and checking the status of where students are in their degree plan.  We were the only two working yesterday, and though it was really busy, during a couple of lags, we had been talking about current issues in academia, and specifically, in this state.  Education and practice and academic preparedness and race and inequity and the difficulty in seeing white privilege and the difficulty in having these conversations with our students and the importance of having these conversations with our students.  Endlessly.

I was reminded of the workshop from a few years ago where I pondered that same question, and how I have continued to seek to understand it, learn from it, and move the conversation forward in helpful ways.  It is not comfortable for any of us, but then, life and learning is not about comfort all the time.  If one is desirous of becoming a more effective human being in relationship with others, it is not about what is comfortable, but rather, what will deepen the relationship and help us to become more fully human with each other.  
That is part of the difficulty: as long as we sit very still on the cactus and do not jiggle around, we learn to develop a certain level of comfort with the thorns in life (Mayadas, 1986).  Start moving and questioning and looking, and they begin to prick you and jab you.  No one likes pain, nor is quite sure what to do or how to do it when that begins to occur.  Either one makes the choice to climb down from the cactus, move past the pain and difficulty, and reach for another way of being, or one decides to just stay very very still and wait for the discomfort to go away.

As I listened to him grappling with issues he was beginning to see after a short while in Mississippi, I was reminded of my own similar struggles at first arrival, and how they have continued.  I wanted to be able to tell him it would get better, but I don't know that it will.  I shared that it had been the hardest thing I had ever done in my life, and at times, the most painful, to learn how to work here.  That is not to suggest that I am wallowing in my own discomfort--I embraced it.  It is rather that to have to continue to grapple with and figure out how to address the inequities and lack of awareness and acceptance of other cultures and experiences is painful.  It is painful to see the dissonance in students, the outright rejection of some of them of the importance of even considering issues of race and culture and privilege in our work.
It is like having to look always ahead, to the distance and see the long slog in between.  In Home and Exile, Chinua Achebe said, "We did not see the need to demonize white people.  We just wanted out from under their rule."  The world has made it clear that inter-ethnic conflict is not always black and white, as illustrated by the ethnic conflict in Nigeria post colonial "independence" between the Yoruba and Igbo peoples--both Nigerian--that resulted in the slaughter of thousands and thousands of Igbo.  Recognition of that fact does not change that the issue is about dominant majority, however it plays out in a nation, a country, a state. 

In Mississippi, it has become a conflict between those who see the symbols of the Confederacy as heritage, and those who see them as emblems of white supremacy that fully denied human rights during and after the enslavement of Africans, and as representative of a desire to maintain and even celebrate that white supremacy in the form of the norms of culture--the "rule" if you will.  However, one feels about it, their really is no way to deny what the Confederate flag symbolized and that the heritage behind it is a heritage that harmed people, and a nation.  It reminds many of us of that harm on a daily basis when we see it flying over the symbols of government, education, and institutions that are supposed to be for all of us.  The fact that some people cannot grasp that reality and examine the "traditions" that have become dear to them does not disconnect the symbols from the origins.  The greater harm is perhaps from those who do understand the origins and still see that white culture as right and desired.
 My next student arrived and we had to cut the conversation off mid-sentence, without closure, let alone resolution.  It is a metaphor for the larger conversation--we never seem to reach closure, let alone resolution.  It left me feeling unsettled, and a need for a conclusion.  Like therapy, sometimes, that does not occur, but rather, we take the unsettling feelings and thoughts with us throughout the week, and hopefully grapple with them, reflect on them, and that is part of the learning for the next session.  I like the way Anna Blake put it this week in her post What to do when your horse falls in a hole--go in the hole with him; you were part of the reason he got in this mess.  I am learning that with my students--to go in the hole with them--not to stay in the hole, but to acknowledge the reasons they are in the hole and to help us both get out of the hole together.  No matter who we are, we are all in this hole, even when we can not see it.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sunrise and the Smokies

First light Saturday

A few minutes later

Sunday morning

Smokies gets its name

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Sunrise in the Smokies

 There is always the temptation when things get difficult to want to retreat.  I wanted to retreat and to cancel this trip, but it was prepaid with no refund.  I pulled on my boots and tugged on the bootstraps and said "Let's do it."  Yesterday, it was one of those days when it just added to the taxing stress of the last few weeks.  Travel was a series of ongoing issues.  After departing at 7:30 AM for what should have been a 7 hour trip, we arrived last night at near dark following almost 12 hours on the road.  However, the rest of the evening was pleasant and relaxing and this morning looked more promising.
I was reminded this morning--of the things that are lasting and important, eternal, grounding me, giving me strength, and enabling me to hope and stand in the promises of possibility, regardless of what might be swirling all around me.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Enter Stage Left

former theatre, Carthage, MS

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Lottabusha County--the gift that keeps on giving

 It has been a hard week here in Lottabusha County, Friday had finally arrived, and as I rounded the curve to approach my house looking forward to a little R&R time, I saw the sheriff's car diverting traffic to the road that is just before my driveway.  Then, I saw the smoke and flames.  The fence was blazing in totality, kudzu and trees were on fire, and the smoke was so thick you could not see.  I stopped my car and yelled that my son was in the house.  A firefighter turned to me and said he was out of the house, and had all the dogs out, and that the house had not caught fire yet.  I called Rand, and then in moments, J called, assured me (albeit with his dry, sardonic, morbid humor) that he was fine, and that all dogs were fine.
 From then on, it was just waiting and watching.  My neighbor had called in the fire as a grass fire on the road; shortly, a woman whose husband is a volunteer firefighter in Taylor, called him and said they needed to hurry, that the kudzu and fence were on fire and she could hear dogs barking and that there was a house up there.  With the kudzu having overtaken the fence, one really could not see the house from the road.  Remember the kudzu on the fence thing--I will be coming back to it later.  I did not know it before Friday, but as my neighbor said, "Kudzu will burn like paper." 
A firefighter opened the back door and yelled "Is anyone in here?"  J--who works at night since he does web and game design--was taking a nap.  He woke when the firefighter yelled--though of course, he did not know why someone was in the kitchen yelling. 
The Lafayette County Fire Department did an incredible job of containing the fire, in circumstances that were difficult.  Kudzu, underbrush, the dryness (no rain since July), fallen leaves and pine needles.  We are close enough to the city limits that the water tankers only had to go a short distance to refill at the hydrant, but the major issue was running out of water.  I cannot count how many times I heard someone yell "out of water."  In all my life, I have never been in a situation such as this, and realized so much about prevention, and safety.  Had the neighbor not seen the initial grass fire, had the woman not stopped to call her husband, had she not directed them that there was a house behind that mass...you know the "what ifs" that could have happened.  Our "fire drill" plan has always just been get the dogs and ourselves out--but that would entail knowing that there was a fire in the first place and having sufficient warning.  First off, the new smoke detector went into the back bedroom Friday night, which was the spot most at risk if anything flared in the middle of the night and started a new fire.  Saturday, while Rand and J were purchasing temporary wire fencing to fence off enough space for the dogs to go out (trying to take dogs out on a leash with all the new visuals in the yard was trauma for them and us), and they got two detectors and these will be wired into the system also.  (It is good to have technological geniuses in the household).  Because they are systemic, when one goes off, they will all go off. 
In our "we have to do this next" plans, we have been planning to address the fence.  First, the guy who built this fence, like everything he did inside the house, did not know what he was doing, or perhaps did not care.  It has all been shoddily done and endangered our lives at times, and our peace of mind all times.  We find it and correct. it.  We knew he did not built the fence to last--the posts were not set deep enough, like in some cases, only 4-6 inches instead of the minimum of 12-18 needed for stability.  We discovered that after the first one fell, pulling a section of fence with it.  The primary problem though, was that he built the fence right on the edge of the hill drop off, and there was no room to get on the other side of the fence to mow, control brush or kudzu.  Our plans were to build a new fence several feet inside the old one (with enough room to mow behind the fence so we could control kudzu and brush).
The firefighters got it under control and left around 6:30 or so.  We spent the rest of the evening, and until 4 a.m., checking and putting out hot spots that would flare up.  The ones we could reach with the hose and the power nozzle were fairly easy to contain, but some were beyond reach, and in two cases, we had to cut back underbrush to reach the area with buckets.  At one point as I walked across the yard, I notice Mary and how it appeared as if she had held back the fire from the house--it sort of arced out in front of her outspread hands, like in a fan shape.

I had just sat down on the porch well after dark to rest a bit when a car pulled up in the driveway and honked.  It was another neighbor, who could see a tree on fire in the back yard.  I thanked her and went to check.  It was actually fence posts, but it took me several trips up the hill with the bucket because it was out of reach of the hose.  On another of my every few minute checks, walking down the front hill and I spotted a glowing tree limb--in a very tall tree.  Called Rand and J, and we did everything possible to get water to it from the hose, but the power nozzle had broken and the hose was not long enough.  Rand headed to Walmart (by then, it was after midnight) and bought more hose and a power nozzle while I sprayed the bushes under the tree where the embers kept falling.  We were able to control that one, and Rand finally went to bed around 2:30 while I kept making checks, feeling posts to detect heat and ensuring all was out.  I decided at 4 that it was okay and crawled into bed with soot, smoke, and scratches from the underbrush all over me.
I am neither Catholic nor superstitious.  Mary was a gift from a friend when I was in Texas.  She was for my Peace Garden--my little spot on the side of my house with a prayer bench, birdbath, sunflowers, and other things that made me feel peaceful and meditative.  I brought her with me to Mississippi, and she has stood in my front yard for 12 years now.  There were two crossties at the spot, and I impulsively placed her there in front of an arch that I also brought from Texas.  Many is the time I have thought to move her closer to the house, and while I am not superstitious, when I think about it, I like the feeling that she is spreading her arms with a protective barrier and I am on the other side of it.
I do not think this statue is embodied with any power whatsoever.  I actually view it as a work of art, a symbol of something that represents nurture and protection, that Mother Mary is a spiritual mother.  Because she is a symbol of something important, as I sat on the steps of the porch last night, again shaken with the thoughts of what had happened, and looking from behind to see the burned yard and trees from in front of Mary all the way down to the road, I was again, just grateful that my son was safe, that my house had been saved, and that the fire had been contained so to not lose any of the houses of my neighbors.
It is surreal to look out and see not the fence and kudzu, but my neighbor's house.  To know that as I walked the yards, putting out hot spots, feeding the birds, setting the bird bath to rights, picking up the spent water bottles from the wonderful men and women who saved my house, that I was now visible, not shielded.  I said I felt naked and exposed.  J said, "I like it.  Looks better this way."  As I walked it this morning, I kept thinking of Robert Frost's poem, and the line "good fences make good neighbors."  Perhaps, as I think it good-neighborly of us to fence our dogs and keep them from running all over other folks' property.  I've thought it good-neighborly of us to shield them from the view of all the things outside that we are still doing our best to repair, rebuild, clean, or contain.

Yesterday, as Rand and J went about the task of building the temporary fence, I set to the task of starting to clean up.  Ashes are everywhere, and I was sweeping, picking up trash, clearing out debris, and cleaned off the front porch and around the back.  The trash bins are full, and things I have been meaning to put on the roadside made it down there and are now gone: a window unit air conditioner, an old table, metal tubs, an old ice cooler.  The front porch has been neatly swept and things cleaned off the screened porch to at least enable easier movement.  The laundry room was cleaned.  I told Rand this morning, as we were discussing what type of fence to replace the old one with, and where to put it, "Sometimes, even though you don't want it, a kick in the gut can be a good thing.  It can prod you to action that needs doing."