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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Higher Level Thinking Skills: A Contradiction in Terms

As a high school English teacher for over thirty years, I was conditioned- as were my peers- to do whatever it took, use whatever trick, concept, trend, or tap dance necessary, to get my students to think. Once that was accomplished- according to whatever rubric of the day was being promoted- we were then supposed to categorize the level of our students' thinking:
high? low?

On the side of fairness, it is important to note that the original purpose behind this regimen was student based: to encourage students to go beyond the literal (ie. the girl's dress was red) to the figurative, the personal, the metaphorical (ie. the dress symbolizes...).

In retirement, I have had the opportunity to engage in thinking about thinking- particularly my own. In the world of education, the business of metacognition has very specific purposes. In the world of my thinking it looks something like this:

Me: "Why did I walk into this room?"
Me: "What was I looking for?"
Me: "I have so many books I want to read."
Me: "Do I really have to put on makeup today?
Me: "If one sugar free popsicle is 0 points , why do multiple popsicles have points?"

High? Low?

Monday, January 19, 2009

I Just Want to Dance

One of the strangest disconnects in getting older is how little dancing is part of my day to day existence. There was a time , when I 'practiced' it so much, daydreamed about it so much, and enjoyed it so much, that a day without any of the above would have been unimaginable.

A mini-memoir about being a classically trained dancer is not going to follow.

I am talking about in front of the mirror, door locked, music blasting on my record player dancing. My Saturday morning routine, as a young girl growing up on a ranch far from town, involved watching American Bandstand and running down the hall to my bedroom to practice what I had seen.

These events in front of the mirror were not vanity. I know what vanity feels like. Our youngest daughter Katherine has kept me humble about the allure of vanity and its pitfalls by saying- whenever she feels I need to hear it, "Oh Mom, you're just trying to show off."
Dancing isn't like that. It's more like the first few words of Chubby Checkers' The Twist: "Come On Everybody".

This practice paid off. Whether I had the beat or not, I had to have the beat. It was so much fun practicing in the dorm at Saint Mary's Hall (it was an all girls' school, afterall, where would we dance), or dancing at Eastwood Country Club in south San Antonio ( it was not a country club), or learning the bus stop in college, or collecting and savoring every Motown record I could find. I could almost dance while driving my car, with the radio blaring( long before cell phones and to do lists and rehashing it all thinking began to interfere with all of that great fantasizing).

But this is not a sad tale. Every year, whenever possible, my family travels to New Orleans so Mom can dance. There,in the anonymity of Bourbon Street, it may as well be the Falfurrias Teen Club with The Bondsmen from Alice playing. I am in heaven.

Last night while watching the pre-inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial, I danced and cried all around the television.
It was as if that entire throng of people, including the performers and our president to be ,were all standing in front of a big mirror practicing what they had learned, but above all what they remembered. Been there and certainly done that.

Retirement Dance May 2008


Saturday, January 17, 2009


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Blue and White

Be still my heart. I love blue and white.

I love blue and white china, vases, urns, and plates- lots of plates. I love it in all shapes, sizes, and forms. I am not particularly discriminating. Point in fact, there is a stack of Spode plates sitting at Ross Dress for Less right now, and I have been circling them for days. I haven't bought them because I have about 24 million at home .

I love it in my kitchen on my Sherwin Williams Ruby Gem walls- a color discovered by a dear friend of my mother's. They both loved houses so much, they called themselves the house detectives. They both loved blue and white as well.

And so it goes: my mother had blue and white throughout her house, I have it throughout my house, and my oldest daughter has it in hers as well.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

"Oh, Mom."

In my family, expressions surface as a sort of shorthand for what needs to be said- either universally to the world at large, to each other, or to friends, colleagues, and like-minded people( however having said that, it is also a way to say what you want to say to non like -minded people). These expressions are not ours alone, but the cool thing is, the message is.
Examples:
You've got to be kidding... This may have started with our oldest daughter, but it is a wonderful way to say : that can't be right, have you lost your mind?, isn't this wrong?, and we are all in this together. It is an edifying, encouraging statement to the speaker. Keep going! Tell us more! We are all, as they say, on the same page.
Snap out of it!- My all time favorite thing to say to my students. It is highly effective and is an exhilarating statement of... (fill in the blank). Try it, you'll be hooked.
Really?!- This will not work without inflection and high drama. Place the drama, your own personal accent mark, wherever you like.
You're too cool for that...(again fill in the blank). This has been directed to me primarily, as a veiled way of saying 'you've got to be kidding '. That whatever I held up in the store, or pointed my finger at as being cute or interesting, is not- plain and simple. It is the ultimate contradiction in terms because the message translates to: you are not cool.
I have never been a fan of... This was coined by our second daughter. This is her way of again saying 'you've got to be kidding' and again, usually directed at me.
And finally, "Oh, Mom".
When the other statements are just too much trouble-too exhausting to utter- this cut to the chase statement says it all.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

One Thing Leads to Another

My intention, in putting away Christmas decorations , for the last two days, was not to reorganize my entire house, but I am in the midst of that slightly monumental task. Tied into all of that is this idea that keeps surfacing about women of ages past working hard, day after day after day. The modern day concept of 'taking time for yourself' certainly didn't exist for women prior to our modern era. Read The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent , with detailed accounts of Puritan living during the era of the Salem witch trials ,to see some great examples of hard core working. At least today I am not butchering anything.

But, I digress...in putting away all of my wonderful Christmas decorations, I have moved and shuffled and remembered. As I struggled with trying not to jam things in boxes and closets, I thought of my friend that I taught with for years. You could give her 56 things of all shapes and sizes, and she could organize them neatly in her top desk drawer.

I sorted and wrapped and occasionally did some jamming. It was at that point that I think the reorganization process began. In retirement, after 32 years of teaching high school English, one thing seems to lead to another- and it is wonderful. As I thought of all of my colleagues and friends at school, right across the street ,I wanted to tell them that. Hang on. You can do it. Keep a tight rein.

And so my house is completely destroyed- but the Christmas decorations are restored to their yearly resting place for now.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

White Spray Paint

My mother was a great proponent of white spray paint and its multiple uses and problem solving qualities in home decor. This has been an important part of our family's home toolbox for as long as I can remember. She sprayed everything and taught me to do so as well.
White spray paint transformed every piece of old furniture, that my father hauled in a cattle trailer, to the first garage apartment my husband and I had. As family members arrived with precious treasures to share -my mother cleaned and sprayed, cleaned and sprayed.
White spray paint covered changing tables,baskets,picture frames,mirrors, lamps and wicker screens in the bedrooms of our three daughters- her precious, kindred spirited granddaughters. She made their bedding, their curtains, their pillows and shams- all highlighted by bright, white furniture we had sprayed and redeemed.
White spray paint traveled in the back of my suburban to every dorm room, apartment, and rent house that our daughters lived in while at Texas A&M ( as well as to all other homes thereafter) . I know we left random spray marks in alleys and parking lots throughout town. We have always painted with such great abandon.
She taught us that too.

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