Mud, Sweat, Mildew, and Scum: The Rewards of Honest Work Tuesday, May 31 2016 

I’m glad I don’t have to labor to make a living—-as in manual labor.  I did 3 1/2 hours of it this morning in the sultry outdoors, white-washing this fence and half of the trim around the house.

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After tank-sprayer applications of bleach + Jo Max solution, followed by scrub brush-applications of elbow grease, the fence shimmers in the midday sun.

At the same time, I don’t mind doing that kind of work, as long as its on my terms, which include the following:

  • I can hire somebody to do it if I don’t want to do the task myself.
  • I can decide when to start and when to quit.
  • I mustn’t have something else to do that I’d rather do.
  • The outcome of the work must be gratifying.
  • The work is relatively mindless, requiring little or no skill.
  • I prefer doing manual labor that benefits me and/or my own property.

Today’s chores met all those criteria, so the work was both entertaining and fulfilling.   The task went along perfectly with the second weekday of summer vacation.   I’ll probably give manual labor another turn tomorrow after I take the afternoon off today to goof off as a trade-off for the morning’s exertion.

Progress Report on Summer Vacation 2016: So far, so good.

Summer Vacation: Let’s Get Natural Friday, May 27 2016 

I’ve observed over the years that vacation is the natural state of man.  And today, for the first time in 19 years after leaving the administrative grind of higher education last August, I am confronted with the start of an authentic school teacher’s summer vacation: those three proverbial “best reasons” to be a teacher: June, July,

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Patio View: My “Office” for the next two and a half months.

and August.

The vacation is less than an hour old as I draft this post.  So far, the sensation is totally natural.  And I am confident that this sense of liberation will continue growing in the “daze” to come.

Sure, the vacation will end next August, and time will likely pass more quickly than I’d like.  But I’ll worry about that a couple of months from now.  Today, we celebrate.

 

Humble rewards of the profession: Oh so beautiful we once are! Tuesday, May 24 2016 

Hang on to the curious verb tense  in the title of this post: I’ll come back to that in the end. Here’s the context.

I was blessed last week, amid the confluent good feelings of spring’s fresh imagery

Poems

From the pens of youthful fancy flow both the ridiculous and the sublime.

commingled with end-of-the-school-year euphoria, to take a couple of classes out to the shady areas in front of St. Anthony’s church. They invented poetic thoughts about artifacts—-objects they found on the grounds—-exploring topics ranging from the deep and wonderful to the trite and ridiculous. Here are some choice excerpts:

I chucked at this philosophical sophomore’s opening tercet from a variation on the villainelle:

“Life is like a ball. / Bouncy ball / Life goes down and up.”

This young lady found a yellow rose growing on a shrub in front of the rectory. Her descriptive opening stanza is simple but euphonious:

“A yellow rose, / full of life and beauty / living for all to admire.

This 15 year old girl’s observations on a faded flower show some poetic sensitivity, for sure:

“Flowering red with its past life / withering of death / Beauty at its most bare wit.”

Some showed spiritual impulses, influenced no doubt by the shadows of the church that covered us that morning:

“Death is drawing near / not afraid, for God is there / let us go to eternity with Christ / for he has shown us the stages of life.”

Truly, teaching writing, especially when students make connections between their hearts and their minds, rewards the most (perhaps since I, too, write). In fact, even though my long career in rhetoric and poetics has acquainted me with greatest imaginative compositions in literature, I can be more deeply moved at the simple elegance of a ninth grader’s insight. Observe how the following piece by one of my freshman writers strikes a deep sentiment rooted in that mysterious instinct of her teacher who has lived and loved long enough to measure the freshness of youthful fancy against time’s merciless assault on flesh and bones:

Oh so beautiful
we once are
Then time will change us.

A wonderful gift
God has made
To share with the world

but long over time
we will change
let our soul define us.

The story of Life
the beginning
to the end, we change.

“How beautiful we once are”—-Didn’t she mean once were? No, I hope not.”  We once were” would have been a cliche. “We once are” is ever so hopeful! Even though the piece goes on to note the inevitability of change wrought by time, its message breathes hope as it refers to God’s gift of creation and the power of our God-given souls to define us.

Yes,  how beautiful we once are! Even the old teachers. And so are these eloquent children whose innocent voices probe the unfathomable depths of truth—-truth that they may not understand for many years to come. May God bless their moving innocence, and may God bless those who strive to teach and enlighten them!

Final “Daze”: Prayin’ ’em through! Thursday, May 19 2016 

Any teacher whose heart is in the right place is moved by the sight of his students’ earnest effort on final exams.

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Finals are SO final!

The word final means so much: the end, it’s over, nevermore, last chance, make-or-break.

So my darling ninth graders touched my heart earlier this week as I regarded them strive.  Their tense countenances, their quiet resolve, their determined effort: I-their-teacher was moved!

I was moved to pray for God to bless their effort.  So as they tested, I prayed.  And as I prayed, they tested.  And in the end, God was faithful to meet our needs!  Their final results were awesome.

Surprised?

Of course not!

Marley’s Spring-time Adventure: Bird-watching Sunday, May 15 2016 

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Please, birds: Make your nests higher than the reach of Marley’s nose.

Marley the Dog is an avid bird watcher.  He uses his nose rather than binoculars, and he’s quite adept at pin-pointing  aviary objects.

But not adept at identifying species like human bird-watchers: he’s adept at killing chicks when he finds a low-hanging nest.

He patrols the hedges and the wisteria growing along the back yard boundaries every spring.  The stupid birds who don’t have enough sense to elevate their nests beyond the range of sniffing dogs’ noses are asking for disaster!   Several times in recent  years, he’s sniffed out nests and leaped into the bushes to snatch the  fledglings who never stood a chance.  Poor nest planning, mommy birds!

We’ve done our best to rehabilitate Marley’s primeval killer  instincts, but to no avail.  Our playful, bright-eyed  puppy dog with his abundant swishing tail is hell-bent for business when the soul of the canine hunter kicks in.  He’s a brutal murderer.

Woe to the birds.  Woe to his masters who cringe at the violence.

But joy to Marley.  Killing birds and lizards, frogs and snakes, is  what he does.

The After-Plate: The Most Compelling Witness Tuesday, May 10 2016 

So often when I visit a restaurant or whip up some awesome dish on the grill, I post a picture of the plate.  The plate before, not after.

Why not an after-plate?  Isn’t the empty plate more

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In memorium: 12 brave oysters who gave their lives for this tasty po’boy that is no more: Consumed in full!

 compelling than the full plate?  Surely so!  No matter how attractive the full plate, if the taste doesn’t deliver the promise of the food’s appearance, how disappointing!

So here’s an after-plate, an empty after-plate, proof that the oyster po’boy that was placed on the plate really was as good as it looked.

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Thursday, May 5 2016 

Before I did some research this afternoon, I assumed el cinco de Mayo had something to do with my Hispanic heritage, since my grandmother’s ancestry hails from the European motherland of Espana.  I longed for a personal cultural connection to celebrate.

But as I looked it up, Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday, celebr

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The Mexican army defeated the French in the Battle of Puebla.  Hmmm…. little interest to me personally, but a good enough reason for a party.

ating a victory of the Mexican army over French forces in 1862.  Mi abuela was from Spain, not Mexico.  She spoke the more sophisticated Castillian Spanish, not Tex-Mex!

My undergraduate degree is in history, but I confess that this one blew right by me: the French in conflict with Mexicans in the New World?  I suppose we Americans were too immersed in our own Civil War in 1862 to notice.

Anyway, best wishes to all for a happy Cinco de Mayo.

As senioritis turns to freshmanitis . . .? Thursday, Apr 28 2016 

Schedule

Popping open the college schedule is more entertaining than today’s English IV lesson

For most of the past 20 years, I’ve viewed end-of-school year processes from the college campus.  These days, teaching in a high school for the first time in almost that same number of years, I feel like I’m looking at that same process through the other end of the telescope.  Instead of teaching college freshmen who were high school seniors just months ago, I’m teaching high school seniors who will be college freshmen in a few short months.  For most of the past nine months, the seniors have languished in deep-seated throes of senioritis, that debilitating condition of the high school seniors’ spirit that prompts irresistible fits of laziness and disinspiration.

In these last days of their senior year, though, for as much as they’re weary and mentally depleted for their school work, they’re coming alive to the new reality of their future: college!  I sense their senioritis is turning into freshmanitis as they nervously contemplate what lies around the next bend in the rivers of their lives.

This growing condition has been coming on In the last few weeks after several groups of my English IV class have gone to LSUE for orientation and early registration.  A popular topic of distraction has become their college schedules.  They log in to my.lsue and compare one another’s schedules, asking one another and me about this teacher or that teacher at LSUE, looking to see who among their peers has some of the same classes, giving advice to one another about what teachers to schedule, where to park, who to ask on campus about this or that, and on and on.  The day before yesterday, after several had been to LSUE the day before, those conversations hijacked the lesson plan in English IV.  Their conversations about going to college were earnest, their attention focused, their tone edgy and nervous.  Forgetting my original plan to teach an expository writing lesson felt like the right thing to do, so I abandoned them to the interest that had become so consuming.

We had fun in a highly teachable moment—-the subject wasn’t English IV, but maybe it was something bigger: RealLife 101?

Prince is Dead: Prince Who? Friday, Apr 22 2016 

A rock ‘n roll icon died today in his late 50’s.  He went by the name of “Prince.”

So, what?  A lot of people died today.  Little people. Obscure people.  Ordinary people.  Why aren’t their names memorialized in the evening news?  Why aren’t their stories made into network documentaries?   What did Prince have going for him that the little people didn’t?

Is it that he was a substance abuser?   Or profane? Did he die prematurely because of a profligate lifestyle?

Was he an advocate for ideals that are wholesome and just?

Of course not.  He was a drug-head weird-oh.  Talented beyond measure, sure.  But a talented-beyond-measure weird-oh.

Prediction: The circumstances of his death aren’t known publicly yet, but once they are, we’ll learn that he died from some kind of abuse.

And our culture exalts this lifestyle?

My soul sickens every time one of these creepy pop icons dies.  Not because they die, but because of the adoring popular reaction.   These people are weird!  What does our culture revere in  brokenness?

Seed/Weed/Feed: The Merry-go-Round of Herbicidal Madness Saturday, Apr 16 2016 

In years gone by, spring weeds never bothered me.   I just mowed more often this time of year. In mature middle-age, though, I’ve grown less and less tolerant of those assorted late winter/early spring trashy weeds and grasses that flourish and thrive as the spring lengthens into longer, warmer days.

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A common symptom of spring fever is weed and feed madness: Not terminal, but certainly maddening.

Right now, the war and assault on trashy weeds and grass rages in full fury.  I have 3 or four species of herbicides to kill every manner of these offensive plants as soon as they sprout.  I patrol the yard daily with varied sprayers and poisons to strategically kill the weeds without harming the good stuff.

If I’d be a little more patient, the warmer weather will eventually take the problem away, because the trashy plants will succumb to summer’s heat as the desirable lawn takes over and dominates.  But I’ve decided the war-on-weeds is fun.  In this sub-tropical greenhouse climate, the competition between the teeming weeds and my determined opposition makes good sport.  Plus, the daily chores give me something to do in the afternoon, keeping me off the streets and out of trouble.  And it’s a biblical charge, for I labor to subdue the earth—- at least the 130’X 65′ part of it that I own.

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